We Have A Budget!

June 25, 2014

The Commonwealth of Virginia officially has a budget in place for the upcoming biennium. The Governor signed the budget on June 21. However, before signing he issued eight line-item vetoes that we returned to Richmond to address Monday evening.

Of the eight, two were ruled out of order, one was overturned by the House but ultimately sustained by the Senate, and five were not taken up.

The Governor attempted to veto language in the budget that explicitly states that only the General Assembly has the ability to expand the Medicaid program. This language makes it quite clear that the Governor has no authority to take action unilaterally (which he has indicated that he will attempt to do). The other veto considered unconstitutional by the Speaker eliminated funding for new judgeships. Had this veto been allowed to stand, it would make it harder for citizens to access the justice system. The Constitutional right to a speedy trial should not be abridged simply out of political spite. We already have desperate need, especially locally, for additional judgeships to handle the ever increasing caseloads.

Speaker Howell rightfully ruled these two line-item vetoes out of order because they did not comply with the requirements for line-item vetoes outlined in the Constitution of Virginia. His decision was based on past rulings by both the Speaker of the House and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Case law established by the Supreme Court of Virginia in two rulings (Commonwealth v. Dodson and Brault v. Hollerman) outline various restrictions on the Governor’s line-item veto authority. Overall, with both of these vetoes the Governor attempted to veto a specific provision or language within a broader item. Based on these past rulings, he does not have this ability without vetoing the entire item. Since the Speaker ruled these two vetoes out of order, they will not be enrolled in the final version of the budget. To view a statement issued by the Speaker which outlines his decision in more detail, please click here.

The Governor’s veto that was overturned by the House but upheld by the Senate eliminates the funding and support for the newly created Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council. This Council was a significant portion of the ethics reform package that the Governor actually signed into law earlier this year. It simply does not make sense that the Governor signed the legislation, but decided to eliminate the funding piece! Nonetheless, the Senate was unsuccessful in obtaining the votes necessary to override this veto and therefore it stands.

As the Governor indicated in a press conference Friday, he intends to pursue unilateral expansion of Medicaid. Like I mentioned previously, he does not have that ability and any attempt to do so would be a power grab beyond the scope of his executive authority. This should be deeply concerning to all citizens who support our representative democracy, regardless of their position on Medicaid. If we go down a path of allowing our Governor to act via executive fiat whenever they feel necessary, this blots out any voice from the representatives of the citizenry, the legislature!

While cumbersome, our system of check and balances created by our nation’s founders is designed specifically to prevent unilateral action by one branch of government. Each legislative initiative must be thoroughly vetted, it must pass judicial muster, and must meet the ideals and vision of the executive. Subsequently, every idea emanating from each respective branch must also face equal scrutiny by the other coequal branches. No one branch is greater than the sum total.

We have seen time and time again throughout history that without strict adherence and respect for a system of checks and balances, a government becomes a regime, a legislature becomes a figurehead, and the judiciary become puppets. This ultimately leads to a path where the citizenry can easily become servants.

So while the Governor’s supporters may be delighted with his intentions to act unilaterally, at what cost does this come in the long run? If we set this dangerous precedent, it’s reasonable to assume that it would not be that long before they are on the opposite side of executive overreach. Who will rise to their defense when all defense has been eliminated?

I stand ready to join with my colleagues in the House to challenge any action by the Governor to expand the Medicaid program without proper authority of the legislature, as required by the state constitution.