Senate Leader To Sue Governor Over Line-Item Funding Cuts
On Friday, Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced plans to file a lawsuit against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) because he said the governor abused his executive powers when he cut an additional $489 million from a budget revision package last month, the Sacramento Bee reports.
The line-item vetoes sliced an additional $394 million from health and human services funding, which already faced major cuts under the budget revision package, Steinberg said (Ferriss, Sacramento Bee, 8/8).
Impetus for Suit
Steinberg said the governor "overstepped his authority" by imposing "punishing cuts on children, the disabled and patients."
He also said the line-item vetoes were "completely contrary" to the budget agreement forged between Schwarzenegger and top lawmakers earlier in July (Harmon, Contra Costa Times, 8/7). Steinberg said he and his colleagues did not agree to balance the budget "by cutting an additional half a million dollars to health and human services, beyond the deep cuts we have already made" (Sacramento Bee, 8/8).
Steinberg said he will file the lawsuit early this week in San Francisco's Superior Court. He plans to file the suit as an individual lawmaker and pay for it with his campaign and officeholder funds (Contra Costa Times, 8/7).
Steinberg said he will base his arguments on an opinion issued last week by the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel Bureau. The opinion states that most of Schwarzenegger's line-item vetoes were illegal because he cut funding from a budget revision package instead of an appropriations bill (Sacramento Bee, 8/8).
Steinberg's lawyers will determine the extent of the complaint and could add additional plaintiffs (Robertson, Sacramento Business Journal, 8/7).
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said she supports Steinberg's legal action, but it is unclear whether she will join the suit (Contra Costa Times, 8/7).
Restoration of Funds?
To restore Schwarzenegger's funding cuts to health care services and other programs, Steinberg said lawmakers could:
- Accelerate tax collection for independent contractors;
- Impose oil extraction taxes; or
- Raise cigarette taxes.
Last week, Department of Finance Director Michael Genest said the governor will consider reversing the line-item vetoes if lawmakers can develop strategies for alternative savings (Sacramento Bee, 8/8).
Legal Costs Further Drain State Budget
Steinberg's legal action adds to a slew of recent budget-related lawsuits that are costing California millions of dollars in attorney salaries and legal fees, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Observers say the lawsuits further threaten the state's solvency and could force lawmakers to renegotiate another budget revision package.
Others suggest that the economy could recover before any legal action concludes, which might allow the government to restore some funding cuts (Halper, Los Angeles Times, 8/10).
Administration officials disputed Steinberg's claims and defended the legality of Schwarzenegger's line-item vetoes.
Press secretary Aaron McLear said, "The governor's constitutional authority to veto appropriations is unquestioned and will be upheld by the courts" (Office of the Governor release, 8/7).
In enacting the line-item vetoes, Schwarzenegger "acted within his authority, and his spending cuts are legal," Andrea Lynn Hoch, the governor's legal affairs secretary, and Jennifer Rockwell, chief counsel to the Department of Finance, write in a Times opinion piece.
They continue by explaining the legality of the line-item vetoes, adding, "We understand that legislators are upset about the governor's actions, but the argument that he acted illegally because the reductions in the amended budget bill were not appropriations falls flat" (Hoch/Rockwell, Los Angeles Times, 8/10).
Headlines and links for broadcast coverage of Steinberg's lawsuit are provided below.
- "Steinberg vs. Schwarzenegger" ("The California Report," KQED, 8/7).
- "Democratic Senate Leader Sues Schwarzenegger Over Line-Item Vetoes" (Small, "KPCC News," KPCC, 8/7).
- "Democratic State Senate Leader Sues Governor Schwarzenegger" (Russ, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 8/7).