Earth Notes
2:13 am
Thu March 23, 2006

AZ line item veto fight

Phoenix, AZ – The constitutional provision itself is pretty straight-
foward. It says if the legislature passes a measure
which contains several -- quote -- items of
appropriation -- unquote -- a governor can veto one or
more of the items without affecting the rest of the
bill. Everyone agrees on that. What they don't agree on
is what exactly is an item of appropriation. The issue
stems from legislation approved in January that
provided a pay raise for state and university
employees. But the same measure also contained five
lines which said that anyone hired in the future at pay
grade 24 or above -- the top of the scale -- would not
be covered by the state's merit system. That would mean
they could not appeal if they were disciplined or
fired. Napolitano vetoed that provision. So on
Wednesday the Republican-controlled Legislature filed
suit. House Speaker Jim Weiers said lawmakers had no
choice but to take the issue to the state Supreme Court
to ensure that what they see as her illegal veto does
not stand.

(It would be a problem because ultimately you put all
the power in one seat, which means everything that
we've ever, ever believed in school and been taught by
constitutional law means nothing.)

But Napolitano said she did have the right to veto the
item because it would force the state to hire those
Grade 24 and higher people outside the merit system.
And these people accumulate leave time faster than
those in the personnel system -- meaning a higher cost
to the state. And that, she said, made it an item of
appropriation of state dollars which is subject to the
line-item veto. Weiers said he found that logic a bit
tortured because so much of what the legislature does
on a routine basis has financial implications.

(If you've got a governor that's able to thwart the
intent by superseding the intent of the constitution,
then there is no legislature any more. Everything we do
can be done away. Everything we stop or try to do can
be overridden.)

But the governor, for her part, said it is important
for the Supreme Court to uphold the legality of her
veto. She said this shouldn't be seen as her stretching
the question of what is an item of appropriation but
really the other way around -- the legislature looking
for a way to curb her constitutional power and increase
its own.

(Another way of phrasing the question is can you get
around the governor's line-item veto by not actually
putting the number in but by putting in such
constricting language that it must necessarily result
in an increased appropriation.)

Weiers found that logic unpersuasive.

(I'm disappointed the governor said that. That is
probably some of the most creative wordsmithing I've
ever heard in my life.)

The next step is for the justices of the Supreme Court
to decide if they even want to step into this fight
between the other two branches of government. If they
agree, then Napolitano's lawyers will file their legal
arguments with the high court and a hearing date will
be set. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public Radio this is
Howard Fischer.