A state appeals court in San Francisco today upheld Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s use of line-item vetoes to cut $489 million more in health, welfare and parks spending from an emergency $24 billion budget reduction measure passed by the Legislature last year.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal said unanimously that the governor’s constitutional power to eliminate or reduce individual appropriations items includes the authority to make further cuts in reductions passed by the Legislature.
Justice Anthony Kline wrote, “By increasing the Legislature’s reductions, the governor decreases the size of the appropriation. What matters is … its purpose and practical effect.”
The panel ruled in a lawsuit filed directly in the appeals court last year by four nonprofit health and social service networks and organizations, which said the vetoes would severely harm California’s most vulnerable citizens, including sick children, disabled people and the elderly.
The lawsuit was later joined by state Senate President Pro Tem. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles.
The groups argued unsuccessfully that the governor’s power to veto individual budget items applied only to new appropriations enacted by the Legislature at the beginning of a fiscal year.
The emergency budget measure was passed by the Legislature last July 28 in response to the state’s fiscal crisis. It included $15.6 billion in cuts to the budget signed by the governor in February 2009, plus $8.6 million in additional adjustments in revenue, borrowing, fund shifts and deferrals.
The ruling can be appealed further to the California Supreme Court. Lawyers for the plaintiff groups were not immediately available for comment on whether they will appeal.
Kline wrote in the ruling, “The current economic downturn affects all Californians, but those suffer most who receive essential health and welfare assistance dependent upon state tax revenues.”
He added, “The needs of such vulnerable citizens so exceed the state’s diminished ability to pay for them that ‘Sophie’s choices’ are presented. Government must choose between and among equally needy groups, knowing those not favored will be devastated.”
The court noted that “the governor’s veto power does not give him the last word” because the Legislature retains the power to override each line-item veto by a two-thirds majority of each house.