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Veto and Override - A Power Struggle at the Wyoming Legislature

After months of review and mammoth change, the Wyoming legislature sent Governor Mead’s budget back to him for his signature. When the governor sent it back – signed – it had more line item vetoes than ever before.

The nature of Governor Mead’s line item vetoes in the Wyoming budget bill created a couple of underlying themes. According to Governor Mead, he vetoed much in the budget where the legislature acted contrary to the separation of powers or inappropriately limited the authority of the executive branch.

The legislature had other ideas. The legislature can override the governor’s veto with a 2/3 majority in both the house and senate. The senate voted to override many of the governor’s vetoes with the two-thirds majority vote, and the House concurred on most of them.

Throughout agency budgets, the Joint Appropriations Committee (JAC) prevented agencies from sneaking some appropriated so-called “one-time” monies into their standard budget requests for the 2019/20 biennium.  Standard budget requests increase by some inflation figure every biennium making budget increases an automatic entitlement. This has created the illusion—and consequent whine—that a cut to a budget increase is a cut to a budget. Keeping spending out of a standard budget is one way to limit the growth in government spending.

Governor Mead’s vetoes started in budget footnotes – notes at the end of each agency budget. The JAC directed that some spending would not be included in the 2019/20 biennial budget request. Governor Mead’s vetoes were, according to him, because these footnotes are contrary to the governor’s recommended authority under the separation of powers.

For example:

  • The governor vetoed making a $190,000 report from the tribal liaison and governor’s office a one-time expense;
  • Governor Mead vetoed making an appropriation of $461,182 from the Capitol renovation fund to pay for two new full time positions a one-time expense in the Administration and Information department’s budget.

Governor vetoed 19 footnotes of this type. The legislature overrode all but two. This shows when the legislature wants to put the lid on the growth of government, it can.

Governor Mead made an additional 17 vetoes in agency budgets and Section 300 at the end of the budget bill. Governor Mead gave a variety of reasons for the additional agency line item vetoes but some of the vetoes in Section 300 show the desire to continue increasing the cost of government in Wyoming. As shown in the examples below, these vetoes were much more contentious.

  • Governor Mead vetoed Section 319, which keeps the salary and benefit budget of each agency at current levels. According to Governor Mead, this provision is contrary to the separation of powers. The senate voted to override this and good thing. If an agency head wants to increase the salary of someone, he or she must make adjustments for that increase by decreasing salary spending somewhere else. This is a reform used in other jurisdictions to limit the growth of state agencies. The House upheld this override.
  • Governor Mead vetoed Section 309, to restrict the hiring of new, or renewing, any at-will employee contract position between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018 unless authorized by the legislature or approved by the governor. Governor Mead said it was an inappropriate limitation on the authority of the executive branch. The senate voted to override this because certain very powerful senators want At Will employees approved by the legislature. The House disagreed and this veto was upheld.
  • And Governor Mead also vetoed Section 329, salary freezes on those over $100,000 (not including benefits), as an inappropriate limit on executive authority.  The senate did not override this because according to the President of the Senate, “total dollars paid over $100,000 is relatively small but the importance of these employees is large.”

In this case, both Houses upheld the best and likely most effective reform, Section 319.

In this light, one wonders why Governor Mead didn’t veto Section 330. This section dictates a five percent reduction to 2019/20 agency budgets. Although across-the-board reductions are less effective than cutting wasteful programs, the plus here is that the JAC specifically stated that the reduction hits the 2017/18 standard budget, not the 2019/20 standard budget. This means an actual reduction to the existing budget, not a reduction to the new increased budget, like this time.

So all in all, the governor worked to reassert the authority of the executive branch and limit the power takeover by certain members of the legislature. The Senate moved decisively against the governor, and the House, for the most part, supported the Senate. Given the direction of state revenues, the legislature must show even more spending restraint in the future. Otherwise our children and grandchildren will be left with a legacy of debt and higher taxes. 

 

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Thursday, 30 March 2017
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