Gov. Gordon takes out his veto pen for state budget

By Ramsey Scott

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE — Gov. Mark Gordon used his veto pen Tuesday to reject more than two dozen items out of the state supplemental budget passed by the Legislature this month. The vetoes started a domino effect in the Legislature with the House set to meet today, when it will most likely start the process to override at least some of Gordon's decisions. 

In a letter to the House on the vetoes, Gordon highlighted 29 budget footnotes that he saw as overstepping the constitutional boundaries of the Legislature. He pointed out that multiple footnotes dealt with issues unrelated to the budget, which instead should be handled in separate bills. Many of the items vetoed were reports the Legislature required from agencies in the executive branch.

"Since these are not tied to the budget or a specific appropriation, the footnotes should be placed in single-subject bills and not included in the budget acts in the future," Gordon said in the letter. 

"I look forward to discussions with all of you about these matters, and I strongly state my position so there will be a clear understanding that I will veto these footnotes containing this type of language in coming years," Gordon said.

The footnotes Gordon vetoed included money directed toward the Wyoming Business Council to help promote state products in Asian markets, and a requirement that members of the House and the Senate sit on a commission to study state leases from the Wyoming Department of Transportation. One veto was an item that required the University of Wyoming and the state's community colleges to study a Bachelor of Applied Science degree. 

Gordon said in a late Tuesday interview after announcing the vetoes that the working relationship between the Legislature and the executive branch was very strong. The vetoes weren't meant as a message to the lawmakers. Instead, he wanted to reset the process to a more "traditional" budget process that lessened the use of footnotes to enact major policy decisions, and rolled back the Legislature from overly directing Gordon and his focus on executive actions. He hoped his vetoes, and the ensuing conversations with the Legislature, would help set the tone for next year's biennium budget process. 

"I had some concerns about (that) sort of practice, which I think probably come about from habit more than anything else," Gordon said. "(There are a) couple of places where they are overly prescriptive in explaining what the executive branch can do. 

"I would love to see us get to a more traditional approach. It encourages transparency."

The announcement of the vetoes late in the day Tuesday was immediately brought up on the House floor. Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said the body would be taking up any items it wished to override today. He said there's a possibility the Legislature would have to come back Monday after adjourning today to complete the process on potential vetoes. 

"That is a legislative power we do not take lightly. But, at times, we've used it," Harshman said while on the House floor. "I think that's part of our beautiful system of government, and we will consider that."

Rep. Tom Walters, R-Casper, is a member of the Joint Appropriations Committee, which helped craft the budget. He said the reports included in the budget were meant to give the Legislature as much information as possible as they worked to appropriate state money. 

"The entire intent of those reports is to make sure we're making good decisions with good information. They certainly weren't intended to be a slight at the executive branch for under-providing or trying to mislead," Walters said. "They were simply an attempt to get more information, more education to the Legislative branch so we make good decisions."

Walters said he didn't agree with Gordon's assessment that the items vetoed should instead be dealt with in separate legislation or as interim topics of study. 

"They're well within the bounds of what we as the Legislature can put in the budget bill," Walters said. 

Walters said House Appropriations would meet informally this morning to discuss the vetoes and what, if any, items they would propose to House leadership for a potential override vote. 

"It will be an evolving process throughout the morning. And then at some point, we'll either say let's do it or we won't," Walters said. "I will not predict what that decision might be. As I said, the entire body, Appropriations Committee included, are still digesting all of what was in the budget message and vetoes. It's too early to predict."

While Gordon pushed back against the Legislature for what he saw as instances of overreach or incorrect items to be included in the budget, the governor did praise the Legislature for many of the actions it took this session. 

"This (budget) bill sets a deft fiscal path for the coming year. I believe Wyoming's residents will benefit from your efforts on this supplemental budget," Gordon said in his letter. "There are several appropriations worth holding up to the public which reflect your diligence. First is the restraint shown with spending and the recognition that not all wants are needs. The thoughtful approach you took can be seen in some investments you made to move Wyoming forward while not overspending."

Gordon pointed to several items included in his own supplemental budget requests the Legislature decided to fund, including a carbon capture pilot program at the University of Wyoming, additions to the corpus of the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resource Trust, and additional funding for invasive and noxious weeds and predator control. 

"I think they've had a pretty good session. They've done a lot of good work, there's some great things (they've done)," Gordon said Tuesday night.