In a Sept. 22 interview on WPRI-Channel 12’s "Newsmakers," the subject of the Rhode Island State Constitution and the relative powers of the governor and General Assembly came up.
Governor Lincoln Chafee said on the show that "nothing could be more important" than to assign more power to the governor, who, in Rhode Island, is institutionally weak relative to the Assembly.
"Line-item veto is a perfect example. Everything goes in the budget the last minute. If the governor vetoes the whole budget, it’s going to be overridden in a millisecond," he said. "But if you can line-item veto, like 46 other states have, then that becomes a public discussion about that narrow issue" and the governor might be able to prevail.
Is Chafee correct that a large majority -- 46 of 50 states -- give their governors the line-item veto? We thought we’d test his knowledge of the states.
First, let’s define the term "line-item veto." It allows a chief executive to prevent from becoming law a particular provision of a bill approved by a legislature, including a budget bill, while allowing the rest of the bill to take effect.
In Rhode Island, it takes a three-fifths majority vote of both branches of the General Assembly to override a governor’s veto. The three-fifths requirement, rather than the simple majority necessary to pass a bill initially, is a higher threshold that gives a governor an improved chance to win in a disagreement.
In order for the governor to gain the line-item veto, a Constitutional Convention would have to be called, the convention delegates would have to propose that change to voters, and they would have to approve the change.
A convention typically is convened by a vote of the electorate every 10 years. Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis has said that he intends to put a convention call on the general election ballot in 2014.
So, back to our test of Chafee’s claim that 46 states have a line-item veto. We went to "The Book of the States," 2013 edition, published by the Council of State Governments. It lists 44 states in which the governor has a line-item veto for all bills or at least for bills appropriating money. Besides Rhode Island, the only states lacking it are Nevada, Indiana, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The "Book of the States" information is based on state-by-state surveys completed in December 2012. So we contacted the National Council of State Legislatures and the National Governors Association to make sure nothing has changed since. It hasn’t, they say.
Governor Lincoln Chafee said governors in 46 states have line-item veto power. But a definitive and up-to-date source, The Book of the States, says 44 have it. He is very close. The judges rate his claim Mostly True.