The New York Constitution prohibits pork-barrel spending and corporate welfare: government money for private projects. Here’s what the clause says:
[T]he money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking.
Couldn’t be clearer, right?
Wrong. The state supreme court today ruled – in a split decision – that this constitutional provision is unenforceable. The state can give money to whomever it wants so long as it is not “patently illegal” to do so.
In dissent, Judge Robert Smith wrote:
I have defended before, and will no doubt defend again, the right of elected legislators to commit folly if they choose. But when our Legislature commits the precise folly that a provision of our Constitution was written to prevent, and this court responds by judicially repealing the constitutional provision, I think I am entitled to be annoyed.
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In the latest issue, The Economist gives a startling look on the dire situation of courts in America. Budget cuts and, at the federal level, political obstruction have fostered delays and case backlogs. Some of the dire consequences:
- In California, uncontested divorces now take a year to obtain.
- One circuit court in Georgia has stopped civil adjudication (traffic offenses, etc.) altogether.
- Courts in 14 states are closed on some work days.
- One municipal court in Ohio stopped accepting new cases because it could not afford to buy paper.
- New York judges’ pay has been frozen for a dozen years, even as their caseload has increased by 30%.
- In Florida in 2009, according to the Washington Economics Group, the backlog in civil courts is costing the state some $9.8 billion in GDP a year.
And so on.
As a libertarian, I believe that the judicial function is a core function of government, and that government should fund it properly and do adjudication well. Judges should be highly paid and courthouses well staffed and efficiently run. Private arbitration is all well and good, but arbitration contracts ultimately depend on enforcement by the public courts. States should be increasing, not cutting, judicial budgets, even if they have to raise taxes or cut more severely other programs in order to do so.
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