See You in Court: The Balance of Power between Governors and Legislatures Sometimes Gets out of Whack

By Jones, Rich; Erickson, Brenda | State Legislatures, July-August 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

See You in Court: The Balance of Power between Governors and Legislatures Sometimes Gets out of Whack

Jones, Rich, Erickson, Brenda, State Legislatures

During the past two years, legislatures and governors in several states have squared off in court. The issue? Separation of powers.

Arizona, New York, Iowa, Colorado and Wisconsin legislatures challenged their governors in the past two years over such issues as the item veto, appropriating federal funds and negotiating compacts. The rulings have so far favored the legislative branch 3-2.

Conflict between the two branches is a built-in feature of American government. Our nation's founders created a system that divides authority among the legislature, governor and courts to eliminate concentrated power in one place. But separation of powers is not absolute, and the conflicts that arise are usually resolved through the political process. Recently they have evolved into legal confrontations.


In June 2003, the Arizona Legislature passed the general appropriations bill for FY 2004 that contained line items entitled "Jump sum reduction" for five state agencies.

The effect was to give the governor discretion over $4.7 million in cuts contained in these agencies' budgets. The governor vetoed the lump sum reduction lines, eliminating the budget cuts and, in effect, increasing the amounts appropriated by the Legislature.

The Legislature adjourned sine die without attempting to override the vetoes. But the Senate president, the House speaker and the majority leaders from each chamber filed suit in the Arizona Supreme Court challenging the governor's use of the line item veto.

In December, the court ruled that the legislators lacked standing to bring the case and let the governor's vetoes stand.

"We stayed out of it," Arizona Chief Justice Charles E Jones told the House Judiciary Committee in 2004. "It was strictly a political issue, an issue that should have been resolved by the branches."

But Jim Drake, rules attorney for the House, says the court neglected to consider examples of previous court cases. The decision leaves open the question of what the Legislature can do to enforce limits on the governor's line-item veto power, he says.


The New York Legislature has been sparring with the governor over the budget process and their respective powers for the past six years. Two cases currently ready for oral argument before the state's highest court may more clearly define these powers.

The Legislature's role in budget preparation was significantly changed by a 1927 amendment to the constitution which gave the executive a strong role in the initiation of the state's budget. The amendment contains a "nonalteration" provision that states that the Legislature can alter appropriation bills only by striking or reducing an appropriation or proposing a new and different expenditure. However, the Legislature has challenged, in both cases, gubernatorial efforts to use the executive's appropriation-proposing authority to change or invalidate existing state laws.

The Legislature amended three of the governor's bills in the 1999 budget that did not involve appropriations, but contained policy directives relating to appropriations. Governor George Pataki used the item veto to remove the amendments. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver went to court arguing that the item veto only applies to appropriations.

In 2001, the governor's budget contained language that would have circumvented existing laws. In passing the budget, law-makers deleted or revised this language. Pataki sued the Legislature claiming it bad violated the "nonalteration" provision.

The state appellate court ruled in the governor's favor in both cases. It said that the governor can use the item veto to remove language in appropriations bills and that the Legislature can only make the adjustments described in the nonalteration provision. Both cases have been appealed.

The decisions "amount to a coronation of the governor," says Silver.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

See You in Court: The Balance of Power between Governors and Legislatures Sometimes Gets out of Whack


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?