Supreme Court hears arguments on line-item vetoes, Budget Section

Mar 19, 2018

Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The North Dakota Supreme Court is being asked to declare some of Gov. Doug Burgum’s line-item vetoes unconstitutional.

And at the same time, the high court is being asked to declare the Legislature's Budget Section has been given too much power over some spending decisions.

The High Court heard arguments Monday on the Legislature’s lawsuit against Burgum.  This suit concerns 5 different line-item vetoes. The legislature argues the Governor can use his line-item veto power on items, but instead has used it on portions of sentences and parts of items, changing the Legislative intent. An Attorney General's opinion found that three of those vetoes were unconstitutional, but two would be allowed. Burgum agreed to the opinion. But the Legislature wants the court to rule on all five.

"We believe the Governor substituted his intentions for the intentions of the Legislature in deleting select words and phrases in the bills, thereby obviating the Legislature's intent," said attorney Shawn Grinolds, representing the Legislature. "The Governor's select partial vetoes changes the intent and the effect of these bills."

Arguing for Burgum, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem told the Court he already found three of the vetoes to be null and void, and there is no need to make them a part of the case. Stenehjem said in the two other cases, they were permissible.

But Stenehjem has a cross petition – in which he argues the Legislature’s Budget Section – which consists of the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and the House and Senate floor leaders – has been given too much power over spending decisions.

"With the veto power the Budget Section now has, they have created a class of 'super-Legislators,'" Stenehjem said. "Their authority exceeds that of everyone else."

Grinolds argued without Budget Section oversight, the full Legislature would have to meet more often – even though it is limited to 80 days over two years.

The High Court will rule on those issues later.