Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says he will veto a Senate bill that would restrict his ability to make interstate agreements like he did last year with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over climate changes.
"I don't like that idea," reflected in SB144, Huntsman told the Deseret Morning News.
So, he was asked, legislators had better get two-thirds' vote in both houses needed for a veto override?
"Yes, in a nutshell."
Both Huntsman and Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, sponsor of SB144, said the issue is not personal.
"It is a question of power, of balance of power" between the legislative and executive branches of government, Jenkins said.
SB144 has already passed the Senate by more than two-thirds' vote and so is veto-proof there unless some senators change their minds.
The bill is now in the House, where Jenkins said he will start explaining his bill's reasoning to members soon. The bill was amended last Friday to exempt any agreements that cost $50,000 or less.
House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, said he has not counted votes in his body. "But we are going to run it and see where it goes." If it becomes a partisan issue, House Republicans have five more votes than needed among themselves to reach two-thirds.
Huntsman, who seeks re-election this year, has been relatively successful in battling such "separation of power" bills before.
Perhaps his largest possible defeat in that area is how the Legislature changed its budget-setting process adopting base-budget bills early in each session so that lawmakers could adjourn with at least base state government programs funded, if later budget battles with the executive prove unworkable.
"I have no problem with Gov. Huntsman; he's a great guy," Jenkins said. "But what about the next guy" who sits in the governor's office? What if he is not as reasonable as Huntsman?
While denying that Huntsman's climate agreement, made with Schwarzenegger and other Western governors, is not the basis for SB144, Jenkins did say it was that agreement last year that got him and other senators thinking about what kind of interstate agreements a Utah governor could adopt.
"Originally, the senators wanted Senate President John Valentine to sponsor the bill over there and me to sponsor the bill here," Curtis said. But after some thought, it was decided it would be best if Valentine, R-Orem, and Curtis did not appear to be in such a faceoff with Huntsman, since the issue is not personal.
"It is a clear separation of powers issue," Curtis said. "He is obligating us (the Legislature and citizens) to budget for these" agreements without legislative approval.
Huntsman said the Legislature will get a shot at any significant interstate agreement when the executive comes to lawmakers to fund it.
"They have the power of the purse that can offset what we do in the executive branch," Huntsman said. "But we need the authority to enter into regional constructs for water, or fire (fighting) or seeding. We have a lot of shared interests with half a dozen states in our region.
"We need the flexibility and the autonomy" to make such agreements, he added.
"But just the opposite could be true he actually can tie the hands of the Legislature," said Jenkins, and in effect obligate legislators to fund an interstate agreement well after the governor has signed such an agreement.
In any case, Huntsman said, any agreement he may sign "won't carry much weight" as a policy unless the Legislature, at some future point, funds it.
Huntsman felt some political push-back after he appeared with Schwarzenegger in a public event to sign the climate agreement. Schwarzenegger is seen by some conservative Utahns as a moderate Republican who doesn't stand for the same ideals as they do.
But Curtis said that even if true neither Schwarzenegger's politics nor climate change had anything to do with his personal support of SB144."(Huntsman) should not be counting on the budget (such agreements may cost); not counting on the money without legislative approval," Curtis said.