In a ruling today, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously ruled Governor Napolitano did not have the constitutional authority to use a line item for a portion of an employee pay raise bill passed by the Legislature.
The court ruled the vetoed language did not meet the constitutional criterion of being an appropriation.
“Common sense and the Constitution won today,” House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-10, said today. “The Legislature is not going to tolerate a power grab, no matter who is sitting on the 9th Floor.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Legislature in March in response to Ms. Napolitano’s deletion of a section of H2661 (Laws 2006, Chapter 1) that would have excluded about 200 future government employees from the state’s merit system.
When the Supreme Court heard arguments in June, Thomas Crouch, an attorney for the Legislature, argued Ms. Napolitano unlawfully used the line-item veto power to negate a substantive policy – not to excise a specified appropriation.
That stance was countered by Paul Eckstein, an attorney for Ms. Napolitano. He argued that the Republican-led Legislature attempted to turn a political dispute over the bill into a constitutional question because no attempt to override the veto was ever made.
In its ruling, the court supported the Republican contention that the matter was a question of gubernatorial authority, and not a political issue.
Mr. Eckstein also said the vetoed provision of the bill qualified as an appropriation because it would alter the way about 200 future employees would accrue vacation time and create “calculable” budgetary effects.
“The Governor’s argument, however, incorrectly equates the obligation imposed by the statutes with an appropriation to fulfill the obligation,” Chief Justice Ruth McGregor wrote. “…The employment statutes may obligate the state to make certain payments, but they do not set aside any sum of money from the public revenue and thus cannot be regarded as making an appropriation.”
A request for comment from the governor’s office was not immediately returned.
House Majority Leader Steve Tully said he was confident the court would rule in the Legislature’s favor.
“The veto was clearly outside her authority,” he said. “We think that she either knew or should have known it was outside her authority, but in a moment of…hubris, she decided to do it anyway.”
The ruling, Mr. Tully, R-11, said, restores the “balance of power” given to the Legislature by the state Constitution.
House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-27, said he was disappointed at the negative impact the Supreme Court’s decision will have on state employees.
However, House Minority Whip Pete Rios, D-23, said he believes the court made the right decision.
“I love Governor Janet Napolitano dearly, but it is a separation of powers issue,” he said. “This kind of [veto] authority in the hands of a [conservative Republican governor] could be fatal to the state of Arizona.”
In 1992, when Mr. Rios was the Senate President, he sued then-Governor Symington over alleged misuses of the line-item veto power.
The vetoed provision would have affected employees hired or appointed after Dec. 31, 2006, and was limited to those set to earn annual salaries between approximately $49,000 and $85,000. The court ordered the vetoed portion be given “full force and effect.”
The remaining portions of the bill, which appropriated $51.7 million in the current fiscal year and $169 million for the next for employee pay raises, were signed into law on Jan. 30.
Capitol Times Reporter Jim Small contributed to this story.