The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday evening in Governor Terry Branstad’s appeal of a district court ruling that overturned his item veto of part of a bill that appropriated over eight million dollars to keep 36 Iowa Workforce Development offices open.
Richard Sapp presented the governor’s case and told the justices that the veto was legal because the governor created an alternative to the “brick and mortar” field offices. He says the definition of what constituted a field office was not clearly laid out by the legislature in the bill, and said a definition has been the test since the first challenge of the item veto.
“Since 1971 the legislature has been on notice of what it must write if it intends to make something a condition,” Sapp said. “There are numerous examples in this court’s jurisprudence since that first case that do the same thing, and the question is: Why didn’t they do that here? Why is there no conditioning language as to the field office section since they were clearly on notice? Could they not get enough votes in the legislature to make it an explicit condition? We don’t know.”
Mark Hedberg represented the group of legislators and union officials who challenged the governor’s veto. He said the issue was clearly defined.
“If we look at the definition section it says ‘for purposes of this section field offices and satellite offices it shall’…it’s not aspirational, it’s not may or whatever,” Hedberg said. “It says we have a product, this is what it shall consist of, this is how many we are going to make and here’s the money for it. When you take that out, and you’ve got virtual offices, you’ve distorted the whole section and what it was all about to begin with.
Justice Thomas Waterman asked Hedberg about the purpose of the item veto. “The intent of the framers of the item veto amendment was to give the governor more control over the budget than he’d have without it?,” Waterman asked Hedberg, who replied yes. “And wouldn’t you undermine that if you construed the item veto power so narrowly that he couldn’t strike out a policy provision that would tie his hands on ways to save money, ” Waterman asked.
Hedberg replied, “The item veto as I understand it was to prevent pork barrel politics is that fair enough? But I think in this case the governor vetoed the barrel and kept the pork for himself, that’s the problem. And I think that’s why you have got to veto the money. Because now you can take that $8.6-million and use it, distort it.”
Hedberg said in his summary that they are not trying to handcuff the governor’s use of the line item veto. “We’re not asking the governor to go through every line of a budget, we’re only asking to take a look at the ones you’re going to veto and when you veto it, you’d better make sure that it’s not a condition on an appropriation, which we believe this was, either a condition or restriction on that appropriation…and I think that’s all that’s required by our court system, not magic words not red lights, Hedberg said.
Sapp concluded his arguments by asking the justices to think about what their ruling would do to the item veto cases. “I keep thinking, haven’t we decided all the issues of the item veto amendment by now. Apparently not, and what the plaintiff’s proposing are going to take us backwards years and years because they have no good alternative test to give to a governor or to give to a court as to how you determine whether something is or is not a condition,” Sapp said.
The arguments were streamed lived on the court system website and there will be an archive of the arguments posted there too at: iowacourts.gov.