State high court sides with Owens in battle over spending power
DENVER – The state Supreme Court sided with Gov. Bill Owens Monday in a long-running dispute with Legislature over who controls state spending, ruling that lawmakers had no authority to tell state agencies how to spend their budgets.The court upheld a lower court ruling that legislative instructions on how state money should be spent violate the separation of powers, intruding on the governor’s authority to administer the laws.Owens spokesman Dan Hopkins said the rulings vindicated the governor.”This is really about the future of the executive branch in Colorado. This preserves the right of future governors to use this power,” he said.The Supreme Court ruled against Owens in another part of the lawsuit, saying he exceeded his authority when he used his line-item veto to kill an education task force that was included in a larger bill. The court ruled the governor has line-item veto power only in budget bills.House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said the court’s ruling makes it clear there are rules for both sides.”I think that was a murky area. This clears that up. I think we’re better off with court guidance, even though we disagree with the outcome,” Romanoff said.Deputy Attorney General Maurice Knaizer had told the court that the legislative instructions, or “headnotes,” restricted the ability of governor and state agencies to manage finances, especially in times of economic hardship.The Legislature’s attorney, Edward Ramey, said lawmakers had not erased that flexibility but were trying to ensure that dwindling funds were spent wisely by department heads.Knaizer said the issue has vexed Colorado government since statehood.Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless had ruled that lawmakers were trying to intrude on the governor’s constitutional authority to have the final say in how agencies spend money appropriated to them by the Legislature.In its appeal, the Legislature argued that the governor abused his authority to veto line items – discrete appropriations for various programs – by deleting the headnotes.
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