Saturday, January 12, 2008

Zorn and others upset with the Governor should curb the amendatory veto power

Governor Blagojevich threw a dramatic bottom-of-the-ninth curveball this week: he would agree to sign the sales tax increase for transit (and public safety in the suburbs) to avoid the severe service cuts and fare hikes if and only if transit fares are completely eliminated for all seniors. This rather progressive idea of eliminating fares emerged for the first time at the last minute, leaving legislators and advocates with a take-it-or-leave-it choice. Initial reports are that the same majority of legislators who supported the bill will support the Governor's proposal to avoid the ridership losses.

Eric Zorn is fighting mad.

He sees the Governor's go-it-alone decree as dictator-esque and he calls on the General Assembly to reject the Governor's proposal as an affront to the legislative process:

3. It has not been vetted by the democratic process. We have this legislative system, see, in which ideas like this get a full airing by lawmakers who try to get a handle on such things as costs and unintended consequences before passing them along to the governor for his signature. But here, Blagojevich, again doing his best imitation of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez (hence my earlier headline on this item nicknaming him "Gov. Hugojevich"), decided to skirt the system. He thought of his idea back before Thanksgiving, as he said in this comically discursive statement to a reporter yesterday, yet didn't consult with transit officials or try to include what he called a 'lemonade' sweetener in the bail-out legislation.

Our story says that "RTA Chairman Jim Reilly hailed the governor's move as an act of 'political courage and statesmanship,'" when in fact it was an act of political cowardice and grandstanding.

The General Assembly should stand up to him and say no, if you want free rides for seniors, get someone to introduce a separate bill to that effect and we'll consider it. But we're not going to allow you to blackmail us with your inevitable chirping about how anyone opposed to your unilateral notions doesn't care about the group you're trying to help -- senior citizens, poor women with breast cancer and so on.

But they won't stand up to him. They'd rather allow another doomsday for democracy than see a doomsday for mass transit. So there will be shame enough to go around next week when they give this plan the OK.

Tough words!

But not fair, particularly to the legislators who are willing to support a civic-supported tax hike (never an easy thing) for a transit investment.

There's nothing wrong in principle with the Governor using all the tools at his disposal. The problem here is that we have invested the Office of the Governor with a tool that is far too strong for a healthy legislative process.

That power is called the amendatory veto.

It essentially allows the Illinois Governor to rewrite a bill that has passed the General Assembly.

Here's the language from the Illinois Constitution.

"The Governor may return a bill together with specific recommendations for change to the house in which it originated. The bill shall be considered in the same manner as a vetoed bill but the specific recommendations may be accepted by a record vote of a majority of the members elected to each house. Such bill shall be presented again to the Governor and if he certifies that such acceptance conforms to his specific recommendations, the bill shall become law. If he does not so certify, he shall return it as a vetoed bill to the house in which it originated."
-Illinois Constitution, Article IV, Section 9, paragraph (e)
Very few other states give their governors that much power over the legislative process. I suspect that our Constitution invests more power in the Office of the Governor than any other state (though I'm not sure if that's true).

That's a problem we ought to solve, whether Rod Blagojevich happens to sit in the Governor's Chair or not. A Governor should have the same legislative powers as the President -- either sign or veto a bill as it stands. No line-item veto, no amendatory veto, no write-up-your-own-bill veto. Just accept it or reject it. And if a Governor doesn't like the way a bill is shaping up, then get involved with the legislative process.

Perhaps if the Office of the Governor didn't have such strong powers over the legislative process, our current Governor wouldn't feel quite so empowered to go it alone. It would be a healthy incentive to push governors (particularly the current one) to engage with legislators earlier to make policy.

The best opportunity to do that comes in nine months or so when every voter has the chance to vote to convene a Constitutional Convention. One of the prime topics of a Constitutional Convention would certainly be a structure that forces the Governor and the General Assembly to work more closely together. So.... vote yes!


Levois said...

This is just encouragement to just write a whole new constitution. The way things are going in the state right now we'll just find more problems with it.

Rich Miller said...

"Not fair" is right. And completely inaccurate as your post shows.

Chicago reporters strike again!