Historical Look at Vetoes and Override Attempts

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(Host) This week the House will attempt to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of pension legislation. VPR’s Bob Kinzel takes a look at how different governors have used vetoes in the past.

(Kinzel) It’s not easy to overturn a veto. The motion must be approved in both the House and the Senate by a two-thirds majority of members who are present.

According to State Archivist Gregory Sanford, various governors have issued more than 100 vetoes since the practice was added to the state constitution in 1836.

(Sanford) “The veto has proved to be a very powerful instrument for the executive branch. Counting the current veto there have been 121 since 1836 and I’ve only be able to find evidence of six of those being overridden by the Legislature.”

(Kinzel) Two weeks ago, Governor Douglas vetoed legislation consolidating three state pension funds because he felt the bill gave too much power to labor groups in the selection of a new unified investment board for the funds.

Last week, the Senate took up the issue of overriding the governor’s veto – the effort was successful when five of the eight Republicans in the chamber joined with 19 Democrats. Lt. Governor Brian Dubie announced the results:

(Dubie) “Please listen to the results of your vote. The yeas – 24, the nays – three. Two-thirds or more senators present have voted aye. You have passed the bill not withstanding the governor’s refusal to approve it.”

(Kinzel) State Archivist Sanford says vetoes were often used by governors in the nineteenth century to correct legislation that was deemed to be defective. Then, in the early part of the twentieth century, Sanford says a number of governors exercised vetoes on Constitutional grounds.

In the last 40 years, he says vetoes have emerged to reflect policy differences between the legislative and executive branches of government.

(Sanford) “Perhaps you best see that with Governor Dean. And you see it to a certain extent with Governors Snelling and Kunin, where the veto message may say, ‘This busts our budget or this goes in a direction we feel inappropriate.’ And because now it’s more of a policy tool, really you see more vetoes in the recent period than you did in the past. Governor Dean had over 20 vetoes. Of course he was there for 11 years. And I believe Governors Kunin and Snelling had nine each.”

(Kinzel) The last time the Legislature overrode a veto was in 1990. Governor Kunin had vetoed the Budget Adjustment Act because she felt the bill would result in a budget deficit.

By the time lawmakers voted on the override motion it was clear that the state had the necessary revenue to pay for programs in the bill. The vote became a formality rather than a struggle between the governor and the Legislature.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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