Leandro’s order price could drop to $770 million

RALEIGH — A new filing in the longstanding Leandro School funding lawsuit would cut an additional $25 million from the cost of court-ordered education spending. Even with the change, advocates still want a court to order the state to spend an additional $770 million on education.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders filed another document reiterating their objection to any court-ordered spending.

A brief filed Friday by a group known as the “Penn-Intervenors” seeks the $25 million change. Interveners make the request as Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson considers his options.

The state Supreme Court assigned Robinson to determine how the North Carolina state budget affects another judge’s November 10, 2021 order to transfer $1.75 billion from the state treasury to fund education components. Each item is part of an overall court-ordered recovery plan.

Governor Roy Cooper signed into law the budget eight days after the $1.75 billion order. A final budget deal won broad bipartisan support, with “yes” votes from 145 of 170 state lawmakers.

Plaintiffs, Penn-intervenors and attorneys for the North Carolina Department of Justice had all agreed this month that the budget covered more than half of the expenses contemplated in the Nov. 10 order. In documents filed ahead of a Wednesday hearing with Robinson, those parties had agreed that the $1.75 billion figure should be reduced to $795 million.

Now, the latest filing suggests the budget also covers parts of the order dealing with a “real-time early childhood workforce data system” and “child care subsidy enhancements.” children”. Together, these expenses total $25,541,761.

Adding credit for these programs would reduce the total price of unfunded CRP items to $769,286,196.

Attorney David Hinojosa of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented the Penn-interveners in Wednesday’s hearing. He and most of the other groups who appeared before Robinson that day urged the judge to simply change the numbers in the spending order while leaving the rest of its details intact.

Once Robinson acts, the case will head to the North Carolina Supreme Court. This court has already agreed to consider the constitutional issues in the case.

On the other side of the argument, attorneys representing the state’s legislative leaders and state comptroller Linda Combs want Robinson to change course.

Lawyers for the Legislature argue that the state budget canceled the $1.75 billion order entirely. They say Robinson’s predecessor, Justice David Lee, issued the unusual spending order only because lawmakers had not completed a budget. Although Robinson disagrees with this assessment, legislative lawyers argue that the principle of separation of powers argues against the judge ordering state government expenditures.

In his latest brief, legislative attorney Matthew Tilley notes that the newly identified $25 million is only part of the money the state budget is setting aside for elements of the overall plan.

The legislative leaders also repeat their argument “that the Court has no power to order the transfer of any unrestricted and unrestricted income from the General Fund to a state agency, state reserve, or other source.” “, wrote Tilley.

Combs’ attorney takes no position in the expense dispute. The Comptroller wants Robinson to avoid following Lee’s lead in how his spending order was to be executed. Rather than directing state lawmakers to spend an additional $1.75 billion, Lee ordered the Comptroller, State Treasurer and Office of State Budget and Management to participate in the transfer. of money without the involvement of the legislature.

The Controller’s objection to this part of Lee’s order prompted an appeal to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Appeals judges issued a rare writ of prohibition blocking Lee’s order.

The writ of prohibition prompted an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which agreed to take the case. But the state’s highest court asked the trial court to compare the original order to the state budget.

On the same day the Supreme Court ordered this review by the trial court, Chief Justice Paul Newby replaced Lee with Robinson.

Robinson faces a deadline Wednesday to make his decision.

Richard L. Militello