Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Gubernatorial Use of the Item Veto for Narrative Deletion

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Gubernatorial Use of the Item Veto for Narrative Deletion

Article excerpt

In the policy science literature and in political discourse, a common misconception about the line-item veto in the states is that it is primarily (if not always) used to eliminate or reduce items of expenditure that appear in appropriations bills as specific dollar amounts. However, studies from Georgia (Lauth and Reese 1993) and Wisconsin (Gosling 1986) indicate that sometimes, if not frequently, governors use the line-item veto to remove narrative sections of appropriations bills. Such narrative may prescribe, proscribe, or otherwise delineate spending requirements; it defines the purpose of the expenditure. (1) In other instances, narrative may be a policy statement or rider that is largely or totally unrelated to any appropriation. The vetoing of narrative sections does not necessarily (though it may) result in the reduction or deletion of specific dollar amounts from appropriations.

The potential use of the item veto in protecting the executive budget from legislation in the appropriations process is not a new concept. In 1901, in Commonwealth v. Barnett (48 A. 977), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court noted that an objectionable practice for which the item veto was a remedy concerned the placement of riders in appropriation bills so as to "coerce the executive to approve obnoxious legislation or bring the wheels of the government to a stop for want of funds." Has the remedy worked? That is, is the item veto a restraint on the use of appropriations bills for the purpose of legislating rather than just appropriating? In addressing this question, we rely on data obtained from (1) a review of court cases, (2) a cross-sectional study of state appropriations acts for two recent fiscal years, and (3) two surveys of executive and legislative budget directors from the 50 states. (2)

The Role of Narrative

The use of narrative within budget bills and the use of the item veto against it varies from state to state. Even so, Rosenthal (1998, 315-16) reports that states increasingly are including policy in appropriations bills: "[H]uman services, education, and experimental voucher programs all find their way into the budget." He notes, "It facilitates passage of legislation under the budget umbrella. Wisconsin has pioneered in this area, with its budget bill running to 1,557 pages in 1993 (having been 281 pages in 1973), filled as it was with nonbudget policy items." A current example comes from the budget conflict in the state of New York in 1998. After the Senate and House took the unprecedented action of adopting the state's budget without the involvement of Governor Pataki, he vetoed more than 1,000 items, including more than 50 "language bills." The leadership of the House, controlled by the opposition party, challenged the legality of vetoes against the language items but accepted the constitutionality of the governor's actions against dollar amounts. The legislative leadership complained that the veto of language in budget bills was unique. The language items outlined "how, when and where money is to be spent for a variety of programs and state agencies" (Hernandez 1998). In one instance, the governor vetoed a provision that detailed how a community college child care program would be conducted. In another instance, Pataki struck a program intended to help welfare recipients find jobs and a section that set eligibility requirements for disabled workers applying for Medicaid (Hernandez 1998).

Criticism of the use of narrative in appropriations bills has occurred mainly at the national level. Such bills have become mechanisms for legislating new policy, for amending current policy, and for directing the administrative behavior of the executive branch, as well as for the traditional purpose of appropriating funds to previously authorized programs. In describing the congressional process, Schick (1995, 154) notes that "although the rules bar legislation in appropriations acts, many legislative provisions are included each year. …

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