For the first time in his seven years as governor, Norm Bangerter had one of his vetoes overriden by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The override came after Bangerter vetoed a $592,000 portion of an $11 million appropriation for state buildings passed during the general session. While lawmakers agree the decision not to spend the money is a good one, how the governor went about it wasn't, legislative leaders said.Bangerter's chief of staff, Bud Scruggs, says the override "is meaningless." But Bangerter showed it was very important to him when he lobbied hard throughout the afternoon, and his subsequent defeat is seen as significant to legislators.
Utah's 104 lawmakers met again Thursday to finish work on abortion, bonding and two other minor matters.
Bangerter worked hard Wednesday afternoon attempting to stop senators from overriding one of the nine vetoes he issued earlier this year. As Scruggs and other Bangerter aides scurried among senators sitting at their desks on the Senate floor, the governor personally called waivering senators on the telephone.
Bangerter knew he didn't have a chance of beating the override in the House, where members voted 61-13 to slap the governor's hand.
Several leading GOP legislators, even some of Bangerter's own aides, said the override took on importance beyond the specific issue - turning instead to whether the heavily Republican House and Senate would override a veto, any veto, by their governor. In the end, they did.
And some say that the override sets a precedent in the relationship between the governor and the Legislature, where Bangerter has pretty much had his way.
When it looked as if Bangerter would win in the Senate, a rather disappointed House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, - who spearheaded the override - said the governor "was twisting arms like crazy over there."
Indeed, the first Senate override vote failed by two votes to get the two-thirds required. But an hour later, Senate Minority Whip Paul Fordham, D-Salt Lake, switched - along with Sen. Dixie Leavitt, R-Cedar City. Final vote: 20-9.
GOP legislative leaders immediately cried foul, saying the Utah Constitution has been interpreted to mean only individually numbered items can get the governor's appropriation line item veto. If Bangerter were allowed to create a "subline item" veto, no program, not even any state employee's individual salary, would be safe, they argue.
What bothered most legislators about the veto was that while the $592,000 was listed separately in the huge $3.5 billion budget, it wasn't an individual numbered item. The $592,000 was part of a larger construction and maintenance item.
Bunk, said Bangerter. Attorney General Paul Van Dam, a Democrat, even opined that Bangerter could veto the $592,000 in planning money because it was individually tallied in the budget document. "To put it simply, if you list an item individually in the budget, it's a line item regardless how it's numbered," said John Clark, counsel to Van Dam.
"We're still not going to spend the $592,000," said a rather defiant Scruggs. "The governor has the power to shift money within programs. That's what we'll do. We may spend the money ($592,000) on building repairs and maintenance, or we may just save it. The veto is meaningless - the attorney general says we have this veto power, and by rejecting the veto, the legislators are implying that indeed we do have the veto power."