Separation of Powers: Executive Veto Powers

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?


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.  Also, please contact Brenda if you would like to recommend legislative resources or case law that may enhance the Separation of Powers website.