The Line Item Veto

By Bill Diamond

Under the Maine Constitution, a governor has the power to alter individual dollar amounts in a spending bill. This is called a line-item veto, and it is a very limited authority. They can only change dollar amounts, and they cannot do it in a way that would result in a deficit to the budget. A line-item veto only applies to money; they cannot change any language in a bill.

Over-riding a line-item veto only requires a simple majority, not the 2/3 needed for a regular veto. This power was given to the governor through an amendment to the constitution in 1995, and it gives the governor more flexibility to change a piece of spending legislation without vetoing the whole measure. Although given the power to issue a line-item veto in 1995, until this past weekend none of our governors have used it.

When the legislature adjourned in the early hours of Saturday morning, I thought I had seen the last of this latest supplemental budget. It was (and still is in my opinion) a good compromise. It had been approved by a large margin in the House, and the vote was a unanimous 35-0 in the Senate. It came as something of a surprise to me, then, when I heard on Saturday that the governor had chosen this budget to issue the first line-item veto in Maine history. He used this power to eliminate additional funding for the state’s General Assistance program, as well as some funding for the state’s psychiatric hospitals, for fiscal year 2013, which begins on July 1, 2012.

The legislature only has a limited time to deal with line-item vetoes. To meet the deadline, we would have had to vote to over-ride them before we were scheduled to meet again on May 15. There are only two ways for the legislature to meet outside of its schedule. The first is for the governor to call them in, but that is not likely in this situation. The other is for a majority of both parties in the legislature to request that we reconvene. A poll was taken, and this threshold was not met, so the governor’s vetoes will stand.

I feel that this is an unfortunate turn of events. The legislature should have addressed this directly and done so as soon as possible. Individual legislators could have then chosen to support the vetoes or not as they saw fit. Not voting on these vetoes at all sets a bad precedent, and weakens the authority and credibility of the legislature as one of the three branches of government. It will be interesting to see what lessons future governors and legislators take from this inaction.

I welcome your comments about this or any other issue, so if you would like to get in touch with me, you can call my office at the State House at 287-1515 or visit my website, to send me an e-mail.

Senator Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham, and serves the District 12 communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.

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