GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter has overstepped his veto power, Republican legislative leaders believe, and when lawmakers meet in an April 17 special session they may well try to override an appropriation veto of the governor.
Last month, Bangerter took $592,000 in planning money out of an $11 million construction line-item appropriation in the main 1991-92 budget bill, HB401.The Constitution gives the governor the power to line item veto spending appropriations. That is, the governor can cut out any numbered item. But Bangerter didn't veto the whole $11 million line item - the item numbered 120 in the bill.
Instead, he just took out $592,000 from the $11 million line item. "It was a sub-item veto, and that's never been done before by any governor, and there are serious questions whether he can do that," says House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy.
In a closed, private meeting with GOP leaders, Bangerter was questioned about that action. "Basically, he said `Override it or sue me,' " says Moody.
Republican leaders are in a sticky position. They don't want to override a veto by their own party's governor. But they don't want the legislative branch of government "significantly weakened" by setting the precedent of a sub-item appropriation veto, either. A two-thirds vote is needed to override a veto. Republicans don't hold two-thirds majorities in either the House or Senate, so they'd need Democratic votes for an override - although they'd likely get them.
"If we allow this to stand, what could a governor, any governor, do next time?" asks Moody. "Following the precedent, he could veto one construction project in a bonding bill, or eliminate one small program in a large departmental budget."
In short, the governor would have significantly more power over the state's purse, a right legislators believe is theirs.
"I've gotten a number of calls from (GOP caucus) members who are very upset over this," said Moody. "If we override, we've taken care of this specific problem. But we haven't settled the matter in the courts. We could sue, but we don't want this to be a confrontational thing, either."
Clearly, no Democratic governor would have gotten away with such an appropriation veto with the Republicans holding the majority in the Legislature. "But we don't see this as a partisan thing. A Democratic governor could make such a sub-item veto in the future, or a Republican governor could do it and have a Democratic Legislature. This is an executive vs. legislative powers question."
Bangerter vetoed the $592,000 because, he says, two years' worth of state buildings are planned and ready to go - but not enough money to build them. Next year or the year after, as the backlog of buildings are funded, then more money will be allocated to construction planning.
The veto question is further complicated by the fact that $50,000 of that $592,000 in planning money was to go for planning a special events center at the Utah Valley Community College in Orem. Utah County commissioners called an April 9 special bond election to pay for the events center. They threatened to call off the county-wide election after Bangerter vetoed the planning money. However, Bangerter sent the commission a letter saying he would find the $50,000 in some other budget if need be.
As reported previously in the Deseret News, GOP legislative leaders may also try to override a veto by Bangerter of a bill that clarifies the Legislature's ability to go to court to force enforcement of a law passed by the body. In vetoing that bill, Bangerter agreed with Attorney General Paul Van Dam, who opined that only the attorney general can represent the state in court, and thus the Legislature should have no independent standing.