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Blumenthal Says Rell Can't Exercise Line-Item Veto Without Signing Budget


September 09, 2009

In a high-profile reversal, Gov. M. Jodi Rell will now allow the state budget to take effect without line-item vetoes that would have cut $8.3 million in spending.

Rell's decision came Tuesday after hearing from Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who said that the state Constitution prohibits what Rell was trying to do issue a line-item veto without signing the budget bill.

Even though she said she disagreed with Blumenthal, Rell reversed her position from last week when she sharply criticized Democrats for what she called pork-barrel spending that she said she was going to eliminate with her veto pen.

"I acted in the best interests of Connecticut taxpayers who can ill afford this runaway spending, and I remain convinced that my use of the line-item veto authority was in keeping with the state Constitution," Rell said. "The items I eliminated, however well-intentioned, were new expenses, added at the last minute by lawmakers who are simply unwilling or unable to say 'no' when it comes to spending taxpayer money."

Rell added, "I respectfully disagree with the Attorney General's advice. However, a costly and protracted court fight will only result in more of a financial burden for taxpayers. As I have said, we must have a budget. For that reason, I will allow the budget in its entirety to become law without my signature."

In an interview Tuesday, Blumenthal said, "The state Constitution very clearly and unambiguously says, in effect, the only way to impose a line-item veto is to sign the entire bill."

Under the Constitution, a governor has only four options regarding the budget, as outlined by Blumenthal. First, she could sign the bill. Second, she could veto the measure.

Third, she could sign the bill and then veto particular line items.

Fourth, she could take no action and thus allow the bill to become law within five days.

The five-day period ended at midnight Tuesday hours after Rell reversed her original position.

"Very simply, you may impose a line-item veto on individual items in a bill only if you sign it," Blumenthal said in a six-page letter to Rell that was dated Friday. "If you decline to sign it, the bill as passed by the legislature becomes law in its entirety, and any attempted veto of selected sections is null and void."

Blumenthal, who offered to speak with Rell about the issue over the Labor Day weekend, added, "If you do nothing and leave the bill unsigned, the entire bill would become law and the attempted partial veto would be null and void and without effect."

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, who has clashed repeatedly with Rell this year over the budget, said, "It is obviously an embarrassing moment for the administration. In the governor's attempt to publicly disown the budget that she helped craft, she valued public relations more than sound policy. As a result, the governor is ending the budget process the same way she began it with confusion that misleads the public."

Among the funding restored Tuesday was $150,000 over two years for a food pantry that is operated by the Manchester Area Conference of Churches Charities and $1 million for a controversial state program that teaches senior citizens how to avoid falls involving various hazards.

At this point, some insiders wondered why Rell would not sign the bill and then veto the particular line items that reached $8.3 million if it was so important to reduce the $8.3 million in spending. In fact, they said, Rell could have signed the bill and line-item vetoed $200 million in spending.

A Rell aide said the governor maintained her position from last week that she could not put her signature on a $37.6 billion budget simply to veto items that were worth $8 million.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk was particularly disturbed by Rell's reversal on Tuesday because he had fought hard on the House floor last week against the Democratic spending.

Cafero was railing against $50,000 for the Valley-Shore YMCA in Westbrook and other spending items during a late-night speech.

"There wasn't much good in regard to this budget, and the only good thing I could say is the governor stood against pork-barrel spending," Cafero said Tuesday night. "I don't understand why she would have given up on that fight. It's a fight worth having. It's a fight worth having."

In tough economic times, Cafero said, the state should be watching the taxpayers' dollars.

"Is it well-intentioned to give $50,000 to a YMCA? Of course, it is," Cafero said. "But there's 169 YMCAs. As I said on the floor that night, how did they get so lucky? ... I have a YMCA in Norwalk that's hanging on by a thread."

When asked if he had been given an explanation of Rell's decision by the governor's office, Cafero responded, "Explanation? I read the press release when you did. I didn't know this was an issue."

After battling for seven months over the budget dating to Rell's budget speech in early February the battle over spending is now complete.

"Game over. Fight done," Cafero said. "Lay down your arms. It's over. They won. The Democrats won. The people of the state of Connecticut lost, unless you're the Westbrook YMCA or the Manchester food pantry. This is the equivalent of [professional boxer] Roberto Duran 'no mas' against Sugar Ray Leonard."

Cafero was referring to a famous boxing match in New Orleans in 1980 between the two bitter rivals. Although Duran denied making the statement, which means "no more" in Spanish, the remark has been widely repeated for nearly three decades.

Doug Whiting, a spokesman for House Speaker Christopher Donovan, said that Rell's administration not the Democrats placed about $25 million back into the budget as part of "add backs" that ended up in the final version that will become law.

Much of the money was for management-level positions in several departments that were placed into the bill late at night, he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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