Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Governors' Lessons in the Art of the Line-Item Veto Clinton's Use Marks a First for Presidents, but Power Is Not New to Many State Executives

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Governors' Lessons in the Art of the Line-Item Veto Clinton's Use Marks a First for Presidents, but Power Is Not New to Many State Executives

Article excerpt

For an American president, Bill Clinton's line-item veto this week was a first, but many of the nation's governors have been striking lines from state budgets for years.

Forty-three states have laws that allow their chief executives to strike individual items from spending bills. The veto is a tool that has become embedded in their political cultures - and many state experts say Washington can learn a thing or two from their use of it.

What Mr. Clinton can look forward to is a changed dynamic in Washington power sharing. He may have increased leverage in budget discussions, whether or not he uses line-item authority. Yet at the state level, legislators have often become savvy at finding ways to exempt projects from the governor's veto. In Texas, for instance, Gov. George W. Bush has to veto almost the entire budget to strike a single item. "He has to do all of it or none of it," explains spokeswoman Karen Hughes. "For example, he might get an appropriation for the entire University of Texas, not just one or two spending item requests within the university." The ability to excise individual tax or spending items within legislation is a power that presidents have wanted for decades. When Bill Clinton crossed out three items in the just-passed budget, it thus marked a historic first for the presidency. It wasn't an entirely new act to him personally, however. He vetoed more than 20 spending items during his years as governor of Arkansas. In terms of frequency, Clinton's use of the state line-item veto was near the median. Many governors employ it far less, striking only egregious pork-barrel items. Others use it as a thick billy club of governance. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson uses it, on average, more than 100 times a year. Frequency of veto use depends partly on extent of veto power. Governor Thompson has broad authority that allows him to strike even single characters off the page. Thompson once struck a single digit to alter a $500,000 dollar appropriation, reducing it to $50,000. "I wouldn't have been able to balance the budget" without this veto power, Thompson says. The conservative reformer has long argued that voters want a strong governor with the ability to cut "pork" from budgets, and so far voters have backed him, reelecting him to three terms by ever-increasing margins. At least one other Midwestern governor agrees that the line-item veto is of great utility. "I have exercised veto power over the last three sessions on 38 occasions," says Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating. Oklahoma's governors have been armed with the authority since statehood in 1907. "It has been an effective tool at the budget table and an excellent way to identify and pare down unnecessary spending," says Governor Keating. …

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