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Is the Governor's Veto Power Too Strong?

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OPINION: Is the Governor's Veto Power Too Strong?

California lawmakers may be mad as heck that Gov. Jerry Brown used the line-item veto to excise $195 million from the state budget, but they're not about to overturn it.

Guaranteed.

That's because in in this state the deck is stacked against legislative responses to the veto.

The line item veto is a special tool for governors, allowing them to eliminate a specific provision in a bill without vetoing the whole thing.

Forty-four governors have this constitutional prerogative.

 

But in California, a gubernatorial veto is especially powerful because of the threshold required to override it.

In order to override a line-item veto in the state, legislators must muster what's called an absolute two-thirds majority of their colleagues to vote against the governor's choice.

That means two-thirds of the entire membership of each house of the legislature must vote to override - not just two-thirds of those who showed up on any given day.

Thus, a vote of 53 to 0 in the 80-member Assembly and 26 to 0 in the 40 member Senate fails as an attempt to overturn a governor's line item veto, or any veto for that matter.

This threshold is the highest of the fifty states and almost impossible to attain.

The last time any gubernatorial veto was overturned in California occurred in the 1970s during the last Brown administration.

Thousands of vetoes have been handed down by four governors since then without a single rejection by the legislature.

The result is that the governor has final say on the budget and just about any other legislation. Once the legislature has weighed in with its bills, its work is done irrespective of what the governor does.

None of this makes Governor Brown malevolent or misguided; he is simply using the powers handed to him by the state constitution.

But it surely says something about the legislature's political impotence. It also raises a red flag about the notion of "checks and balances" between the two branches.

There is no question that as the chief executive, the governor should have authority to lead the state.

But with current veto rules, is that authority beyond question? If so, should the rule be changed to allow a bit more opportunity for the legislature to challenge the governor's "last word?"

Recently, the voters made it easier to pass a state budget by a simple majority instead of a similar requirement for an absolute two-thirds majority.

Perhaps the next step should be to take "absolute" out of the two-thirds requirement for overturning the governor's veto.

It just might restore a bit of balance between the two branches and create an atmosphere for more debate.

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst for NBC Bay Area.

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