PA governor sued by child welfare groups claiming denial of state funds is unconstitutional, illegal
In a lawsuit filed yesterday evening in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, community-based non-profit charitable organization NHS Youth Services and others have filed suit against Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, questioning the legality and constitutionality of the governor’s refusal to approve appropriations already passed by the state General Assembly, funds the various groups claim are “necessary to fund the provision of state and federal mandated child welfare and adult behavioral health services to Commonwealth citizens in need of and eligible for those services.”
In signing the General Appropriations Act of 2009 into law on August 5, 2009 Rendell, faced with the same budget crisis plaguing state and local governments across the nation, used his line-item veto to excise approximately $12.9 billion of the $23.9 billion of spending authorized by the legislation. The groups suing the governor insist that he “made few cuts to the appropriations for the Governor’s Office, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Auditor General’s Office or the State Court System” and that he preserved “provisions of SB 850 directing payment for the salary and benefits of … thousands of [state] employees who are not responsible for providing services essential to preserving and protecting the health and safety of at risk children and adults.” Instead, the groups maintain, Rendell “vetoed the entire appropriations for juvenile child welfare services, foster care and adoption services, base funded community IDD services, autism intervention services, community mental health services and drug and alcohol services.”
Look, as much as I believe wholeheartedly in minimal government involvement in daily live, I’m not going to bemoan adoption services and care for autistic children. I will, however, caution that is is the problem at the heart of large, mandated entitlement programs — if the money runs out, the state is on the hook and can be taken to task for failing to provide the funds proscribed by law.
During the stimulus debate, when now-disgraced South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford joined Gov. Haley Barbour from Mississippi, Gov. Rick Perry from Texas and a few more in rejecting stimulus funds, they argued that while the expanded unemployment and other programs set up by the legislation was nice, when the federal stimulus money ran out, their states would be left out in the cold and forced to make up the difference, likely through increasing the tax burden on state residents and businesses.
Now, I’m not going to wax philosophic on matters of social welfare, but above and beyond anything else, the lesson here is that, when in doubt, we should err on the side of minimal government involvement in any particular aspect of daily life. And that’s an important sentiment to consider as we weigh health care reform.
(NHS Philadelphia, et al. v. Gov. Edward G. Rendell, Case No. 2:09cv04109, was filed in USDC Eastern District of PA yesterday.)