The Supreme Court hears dispute over pending power
DENVER – A long-running dispute between the Legislature and the governor over who controls state spending went before the state Supreme Court on Thursday. The central question: How much authority do lawmakers have to tell agencies how to spend their budgets, and how far does the governor’s line-item veto power extend?Gov. Bill Owens’ attorney argued state lawmakers unconstitutionally stepped outside their authority when they wrote broad definitions into a budget bill with the intent of instructing state agencies on how to spend money.Deputy Attorney General Maurice Knaizer said the definitions, called headnotes, restricted the flexibility state law gives the governor and state agencies to manage finances, especially in times of economic hardship.The Legislature’s attorney, Edward Ramey, said nothing lawmakers wrote into the 2002 budget bill erased that flexibility. He said lawmakers were trying to ensure that dwindling funds were spent wisely by department heads. Without the instructions, actions by one agency could inadvertently force higher-than-expected expenses on another agency, Ramey said.The arguments came in a lawsuit the Legislature filed against Owens after he vetoed 13 headnotes in the 2002 budget bill.Owens and legislative leaders have said the lawsuit was the best way to resolve a dispute Knaizer has said vexed Colorado government since statehood.Denver District Judge Jeffrey Bayless ruled last year 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.Ramey also argued that Bayless was correct in ruling that Owens exceeded his authority when he vetoed an appropriation in a different bill, saying the line-item veto authority can be used only on the general appropriations bill, the roughly 600-page measure lawmakers pass each year to fund government operations. Knaizer disputed that, saying the Constitution gave the governor that power to ensure the budget remains balanced.
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