“A Governor, not an emperor”

Senator Steinberg announced that using his campaign funds, he would personally sue Governor Schwarzenegger over the additional $500 million in blue-pencil line-items cuts.

Lots of groups impacted were interested in suing, but they were, by definition, the folks hard-pressed to find the resources to sue: community clinics, AIDS services providers, battered women’s shelters, low-income families with uninsured children, etc.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board weighed in why this fight is not just so critical for the services mentioned, but for the issue of balance of power:

It raises troubling questions about the power and purview of the governor and about whether he can take for himself some of the authority to impose midyear spending cuts that he has tried, and failed, to win at the ballot box. California needs to know the answers.

Remember that the Legislature passed, and the governor signed, a budget in February… Last month, lawmakers sent Schwarzenegger a package of appropriations and cuts, and no one disputes the governor’s power to veto any of the appropriations. But he also vetoed some of the cuts, not to reject them but to deepen them — to, in effect, use the opportunity presented by the Legislature’s majority-vote cuts to reopen appropriations that the Legislature made, and that he signed, in February. But if an appropriation requires a two-thirds vote, and if a cut is adopted on a simple majority, how can it be deemed an appropriation?

California vests lawmaking power in the Legislature and properly limits the executive by allowing him to veto appropriations, line-by-line if he likes, but not to unilaterally alter those already on the books.

Human services providers want to restore some of the cuts that never got legislative approval, and it’s hard to blame them. But there’s an even more important reason to subject the vetoes to scrutiny: They amount to a power shift — one that may well be outside the lines of the state Constitution and beyond the principle of separation of powers.

Jean Ross at the California Budget Project does provide some context for the disputed cuts, as awful as they are:

While the Governor’s vetoes provide a stark reminder of the scope and magnitude of the reductions in the recent budget agreement, they represent a tiny fraction – just 3.0 percent – of the total cuts in the July package. The $50 million “blue penciled” from the Healthy Families Program, for example, is less than the $124 million cut approved by the Legislature. Debate over the legality of the Governor’s vetoes shouldn’t divert attention from the underlying fact that absent additional revenues, future budgets will continue to erode the quality of public services that Californians and the future of the state’s economy depend on.

The budget fight continues…

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