Separation of Powers--Executive Veto Powers



  • Brenda Erickson
  • Kae Warnock
  • If you have any questions, please contact Brenda in NCSL's Denver office at (303) 364-7700.  Also, please email us if you would like to recommend legislative resources or case law that may enhance the Separation of Powers website.
Picture of Scales

In General

Two of the main responsibilities of the legislative branch are to enact the laws of the state and appropriate money for the administration of public policy.  State constitutions balance these legislative powers by giving veto authority to the chief officer of the executive branch (i.e., the governor).

Every state constitution empowers the governor to veto an entire bill passed by the legislature.  Many constitutions  expand the executive's veto powers by also authorizing methods of veto that permit particular portions of a bill to be rejected or changed.  Partial veto methods include item (or line item) veto, amendatory veto and reduction veto.

The veto process is very formal and time sensitive, and how time is counted is extremely important.  Legislatures often face specified times within which measures must be delivered to their governors.  Once a bill is delivered to the governor, the number of days for gubernatorial action on a measure also is limited.  If the governor vetoes a bill (or portion thereof), it must be returned to the house of origin for reconsideration.  To become law, each chamber must repass the bill (or portion thereof), usually by a supermajority vote.

Questions arising with the veto process include:

  • What is the number of days in which the governor must sign or veto the bill?
  • How is that number computed (when does the "tolling" begin)?
  • Must the governor's objections be sent with the vetoed bill?
  • What constitutes a gubernatorial veto message?
  • Must a vetoed bill be returned to the legislature when it is actually in session?
  • Does adjournment by the legislature prevent return of the bill, and if so, when does the time period for signature or veto begin (after presentation of the bill to the governor, after adjournment of the legislature)?

Item (or Line Item) Veto

Although the legislature has the exclusive power to appropriate, many governors can veto items contained in appropriations bills without having to veto the entire bill.  Granting the governor line-item budget veto authority, for example, would appear to infringe on the legislature's appropriation authority, yet 44 states allow it.  Thus, the power to control spending is shared.  As a result, budgeting is an area where friction between the legislative and executive branches often occurs.
Questions arising with the item veto process include:

  • What constitutes an appropriation bill?
  • What constitutes an item within an appropriation bill?


Arizona:  Arizona State Senate Issue Brief, Gubernatorial Line Item Veto Authority, 2006
Colorado:  Attorney General's Opinion 90-16, "Constitutional Limitations on the Power of the General Assembly to Appropriate Custodial Funds," 1990
Connecticut:  Connecticut Office of Legislative Research: Executive Orders and Separation of Powers, July 14, 2005
Michigan:  Attorney General's Opinion No. 6955, "Application of gubernatorial line-item veto granted by Const 1963, art 5, § 1," 1997
Michigan: Attorney General's Opinion No. 6746, "Legislative infringement upon gubernatorial line item veto power," 1993
Michigan:  Attorney General's Opinion No. 6102, "Vote needed to override veto of bill amending initiated law," 1982
Minnesota:  Minnesota House Research Department, History of the Item Veto in Minnesota, 2008
Minnesota:  Minnesota Office of Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis, Power of the Purse in Minnesota,  2007
Minnesota:  Minnesota Office of Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis,  Veto Power of the Governor of Minnesota, 1995
National Governors Association: "Governors' Powers and Authority", 2012
NCSL:  Gubernatorial Veto Authority with Respect to Major Budget Bills, 2008 
 NCSL:  State Legislatures Magazine, "See You in Court," July/August 2004 
NCSL:  Inside the Legislative Process, "The Veto Process," 1998.
South Dakota:  South Dakota Legislative Research Council, The Amendatory Veto:  The Governor as Participant in the Legislative Process, 1995
Washington:  Attorney General's Opinion, AGLO 1975 No. 34, relating to the timing of bill passage and override of veto, 1975
Wisconsin:  Wisconsin Legislative Council, "State Budget Process," Wisconsin Legislator Briefing Book 2013-14
Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau,  The Governor's Veto Power:  To What Extent Can the Governor Reject Legislation?, 2005
Wisconsin:  Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, The Partial Veto in Wisconsin, 2004

Case Law

Arizona:  47th Legislature v. Napolitano, 213 Ariz. 482 (2006)
Arizona:  Bennett v. Napolitano, 206 Ariz. 520, 81 P.3d 311 (2003)
Arizona:  Rios v. Syminton, 172 Ariz. 3, 833 P.2d 20 (1992);
Colorado:  Romer v. Colorado General Assembly, 840 P.2d 1081, 1992 Colo.
 Florida:  Chiles v. Phelps, 714 So. 2d 453 (Fla. 1998),
Florida:  Florida House of Representatives v. Martinez, 555 So.2d 839, 840, 844 (Fla. 1990) (“Martinez II”)
Florida:  Martinez v. Florida Legislature, 542 So. 2d (Fla. 1989) (“Martinez I”)
Idaho:  Cenarrusa v. Andrus, 99 Idaho 404, 582 P.2d 1082 (1978)
Idaho:  Wheeler v. Gallet, 43 Idaho 175, 249 P. 1067 (1926)
Iowa:  Rants v. Vilsack, 684 N.W.2d 193 (Iowa 2004).
Louisiana:  Henry v. Edwards, 346 So.2d 153 (1977)
New Mexico:  Sego v. Kirkpatrick, 86 NM 359, 524 P 2nd 975 (1974)
New Mexico:  Dickson v. Saiz, 62 NM 227,308 P2nd 205 (1957)
Ohio: State ex rel. Ohio Gen. Assembly v. Brunner, 114 Ohio St.3d 386, 2007-Ohio-3780
South Carolina:  Drummond v. Beasley, 331 S.C. 559, 503 S.E.2d 455 (1998)
Wisconsin:   Risser v. Thompson, 502 U.S. 860 (1991)
Wisconsin:   Fred A. Risser and David Travis v. Tommy G. Thompson, 930 F.2d 549 (7th Cir, 1991)
Wisconsin:   State ex rel Wisconsin Senate v. Thompson, 144 Wis. 2d 429 (1988).

Receiving Information or Recommending Additions

If you have any questions, please contact Brenda Erickson in NCSL's Denver office at (303) 364-7700.  Also, please contact Brenda if you would like to recommend legislative resources or case law that may enhance the Separation of Powers website.