The Meaning of a Veto …

Yesterday, we were back in session in Richmond to take up the Governor’s budget to the biennial state budget.

In a nutshell, the House rejected the Governor’s vetoes to the Budget, except one discrete issue on the flawed ethics reform legislation (that we sustained).  The mechanics of this are not easy. It’s basically as follows …

The Governor has a line item veto over the Budget under Article 5, Section 6(d) of the Constitution.  That line item veto power is not open-ended.  Rather it’s restricted to the power to veto an appropriation itself, meaning the entire spending item.  The power cannot be used to vary, modify or eliminate a restriction on the spending.

Yesterday, the Speaker ruled some of these key vetoes “out of order,” which  means that the House never actually voted on them.  Since the House never voted, we never even saw them on the Senate side. (This includes, most pertinently, the veto of the Stanley amendment on Medicaid expansion).

That means that these key vetoes were not “sustained” — so the line items are not dead.  But they’re not necessarily alive either, especially since the Governor now has the ability to simply “re-veto” them, without the constitutional requirement to send them back to the General Assembly.  Or he can simply treat the House’s action as de facto sustaining, because the item was not passed over his veto (“If either house fails to override the Governor’s veto, the veto shall stand and the bill shall not become law”).

If the Governor deems that his vetoes are valid and unrebutted, and I suspect he will, then the Assembly will be in a fiscal “Twilight Zone,” as we’ll be authorizing money (i.e. on new judges) that may not actually exist.

The referee may end up being the Controller’s Office, which is a non-descript state agency that issues the payment on state obligations.  At the end of the day, they control the budget pen — but do they answer to the Assembly or the Governor?

Unless the parties work out a solution here, this could be a legal issue that could take months to untangle.  And does anyone even remember what the point is?

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