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House moves to limit governor line-item vetoes

Voters may be given the opportunity this fall to further limit when governors can use their line-item veto power, if a measure approved March 30 by the House is passed by the Senate.

The constitutional change, which requires approval by voters, would only allow a governor to exercise his or her line-item veto authority if the veto results in a reduction in state spending.

Currently, the constitution limits line-item vetoes to appropriations in spending bills.

Supporters of HCR2038 are hoping to avoid what happened last year, when Gov. Jan Brewer used line-item vetoes to eliminate spending cuts backed by Republican lawmakers. Because the cuts were structured as lump-sum reductions in spending, the effect of the vetoes was to eliminate the cuts, but leave the base spending alone. That result was higher spending than lawmakers approved.

Brewer was not the first governor to do so. In 2003, then-Gov. Janet Napolitano employed the line-item veto in an identical fashion.

Napolitano’s vetoes led to a lawsuit from Republican legislative leaders, who argued using the veto power to increase spending was unconstitutional.

Although the Arizona Supreme Court ultimately ruled the GOP leaders didn’t have standing to sue because they represented only themselves, not the entire Legislature, the court did briefly touch on the merits of the case.

Chief Justice Charles Jones wrote that future Legislatures could easily avoid similar clashes with the executive by not including lump sum cuts in budget bills.

“As a practical matter, the legislature may enact future appropriations in ways that avoid (lump-sum) reductions as parts of the appropriation process,” Jones wrote in the unanimous opinion.

HCR2038 was approved by a 34-24 in the House. It heads next to the Senate; if it is approved there, it will be on the November ballot.

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