In two distinct moves, Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday pushed back against the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature.
Crist vetoed a proposed 2 percent pay cut for state workers making more than $45,000 at the same time he signed the state's $66.5 billion budget into law. Then later in the day Crist vetoed a sweeping state contracts bill that would have shifted more control over contracts to lawmakers away from the executive branch.
The ongoing political question is whether or not his fellow Republicans accept it and move on for the time being. Or will some maverick GOP lawmakers go ahead and buck Crist?
The issue surrounding the pay cuts is whether or not Crist even had the legal authority to do what he did on Wednesday. Crist vetoed the stand-alone provisio language that authorized the cut, a move that could run contrary to the state constitution.
The constitution states that a governor cannot use his line-item veto power to wipe out a provision in the budget without also wiping out the underlying spending item attached to it. The problem was that lawmakers spread the pay cut throughout the budget and did not put it in one place. Crist told reporters on Wednesday that he had ordered agency heads to enact other spending cuts to offset the $30 million that would have been saved by the pay cut. Crist said he had talked to legal counsel who assured him that what he was doing is legal.
But in a famous case from 1980, Brown v. Firestone, the state high court ruled: "Veto power is intended to be a negative power, the power to nullify, or at least suspend, legislative intent. It is not designed to alter, or amend legislative intent."
Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander told the N.Y. Times Regional Newspapers bureau in Tallahassee that he thought the move was clearly "unconstitutional." But other top lawmakers, including Senate President Jeff Atwater, saw little value in challenging Crist's decision.
Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, put it bluntly: "Politically, who's going to challenge him?"
It is worth noting, however, that not everyone in the House was quick to rule it out. Rep. Marcelo Llorente, R-Miami, and one of the two House budget chiefs said the decision will likely be reviewed by the House. Jill Chamberlin, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Larry Cretul, said that Cretul would review the veto next week with staff.
Another X factor: While a case against Crist filed by the House or Senate would generate more attention, there is nothing to stop a individual lawmaker from also filing a lawsuit. There are some who interpret previous rulings from the state Supreme Court to say that there is a wide latitude for any "taxpayer" to challenge the way the budget is handled by the governor.
Another way to handle it of course is to have lawmakers override a Crist veto by a 2/3 vote, but the likelihood of that scenario is very dim. Plus legislators are not officially scheduled to be back in Tallahassee until next year - even though Atwater says there is a possibility of a special session this fall to ratify a compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida or deal with even more budget cuts if the economy does not rebound.