No surprise: The Omaha firefighters union is none too happy with Mayor Jean Stothert’s city budget plan.
But racing to court to challenge the proposal, one that hasn’t been voted on by the Omaha City Council and isn’t the law yet, was most definitely a cart- before-the-horse maneuver.
Douglas County District Judge James T. Gleason was right to dismiss the union’s lawsuit and to refrain from offering any advice to the city’s elected budget writers.
The judge noted the principle that courts should avoid involvement in disagreements based on future events that may, or may not, occur.
“In this instance, this court declines to enter the political sphere (which it is not permitted to do in any event) by issuing an advisory opinion,” the judge wrote.
As proposed, the mayor’s budget would boost Fire Department spending by $8.2 million over current levels, the largest dollar increase of any city department.
Even with that increase, however, spending would fall about $3.5 million short of what the fire chief requested. The mayor’s plan calls for 16 layoffs, eight demotions and the idling of two rigs. The union obviously doesn’t like the proposal.
Whether the layoffs and other steps are fiscally prudent or a contract-violating danger to public safety is a legitimate issue to debate. But in the proper forum, not in a premature lawsuit.
Our system of separation of powers needs to be respected.
The executive branch has offered its proposal. Now it’s the turn of the legislative branch, the City Council, to consider that plan and approve or amend it as it sees fit. A vote is scheduled for next week, and that’s where the debate needs to take place.
The judicial branch is there to resolve disputes and referee abuses of power by the other two branches of government — not to make legislative and spending decisions for them.
Judge Gleason made the right call.