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Politics & Government

Partial Veto of Projects Could Prompt Lawsuit

Lawmakers think the governor overreached when he vetoed not just parts of the state budget, but parts of another related piece of legislation, and House and Senate leaders are weighing their options to retaliate.

The state constitution allows the governor to partially veto “appropriations.” Lawmakers have interpreted that to mean specific sections of a state budget can be struck down by the governor.

Last week, Gov. Tom Corbett did that.

But Corbett also used the line-item veto on another piece of legislation. It’s called the fiscal code, and it’s commonly referred to as the instruction manual that accompanies the budget. This year, it included a number of sections funneling money to certain projects.

Drew Crompton, chief counsel for the Senate president pro tem, said he got a call from the governor’s staff right before they announced the partial veto of some of those projects.  

“And I started to laugh,” said Crompton. “And I said, ‘Whoa, I don’t think you have the power to do that.’ And he responded tersely, ‘Our lawyers say that we do.’”

Charles Zogby, the governor’s budget secretary, was on the other end of the line.

“Oh, I remember the exchange,” Zogby said. “I don’t remember laughter.”

Their disagreement hinges on a technical point. Corbett vetoed $7.2 million in fiscal code line items. But are those items appropriations as defined by the state constitution? Or are they merely instructions that pertain to appropriated money?

Corbett’s office argues the governor’s partial veto power extends beyond state budget bills to include any appropriation-related legislation.

“The fiscal code speaks to the direction of funds, the raising of funds, how they’re spent,” said Zogby. “And so in the view of our General Counsel’s Office, the governor’s lawyers, they believe that he has this authority.”

Lawmakers disagree. Crompton refers back to the state constitution’s use of the word “appropriations” when qualifying piecemeal veto power.  

“The framers put that in... for obvious reasons,” Crompton said. “They didn’t want unfettered ability from the executive branch to blue-line language in every random bill that had numbers in it.”

Legislative leaders are mulling a lawsuit. They could also override the partial veto with two-thirds majority votes in the House and Senate.

Leaders are not contesting Corbett’s veto of $65 million of their own funding, which was contained in the state budget bill.