Line-items vetoes made by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are being questioned by state budget officials, who said Tuesday that the new Republican governor appeared to cut spending in ways that are beyond his constitutional power.
The statements drew immediate rebuke from Abbott, who took fiery bureaucrat-bashing criticism that he normally reserves for the Obama administration and hurled it toward a nonpartisan agency in his own Capitol.
The disputed vetoes involve some of $233 million that Abbott carved from the state budget in June after the spending had been approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature. He cited fiscal conservatism in stripping dollars for water conservation grants, a mental health program and membership fees to an education group that Abbott said supports Common Core, the national set of academic standards that many conservatives detest.
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The governor in Texas, like in many states, has line-item veto power to remove appropriations from a budget.
But Legislative Budget Board Director Ursula Parks said that Abbott went beyond that authority by eliminating legislative directives in budget riders -- orders from lawmakers that have a price tag but are not new appropriations.
Making her argument, Parks sometimes turned Abbott's own words against him: She cited an opinion about state spending that Abbott made in 2010 while he was still the state's attorney general. She also pointed to Abbott calling for expanded line-item veto authority shortly after taking office, something the Legislature did not grant.
"The Proclamation seeks to go beyond what is authorized in the Texas Constitution, is in many respects unprecedented, and is contrary to both practice and expectation since adoption of the Texas Constitution in 1876," Parks wrote.
It was not immediately clear if the vetoes will stand, or who will make that determination.
Chris Bryan, a spokesman for the state comptroller, said they are still reviewing the matter and may request an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Abbott's successor.
Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the vetoes are valid.
"It is unfortunate that unelected bureaucrats at the LBB are more concerned with protecting their own turf than complying with the line-item veto authority conferred on the Governor by the Texas Constitution," Wittman said. "In their zeal to expand their power, the LBB's bureaucrats are actively working to interfere with the Governor's constitutional authority to limit government and cut unnecessary spending. "
That sort of language is not unusual from Abbott when directed at the federal government, which he sued 30 times as attorney general. But this time, Abbott is feuding with a small state agency tasked with the tedium of putting together the voluminous state budget and answering to elected lawmakers, who routinely thank Parks and her staff for their expertise and long hours when the legislature is in session.
Wittman said the board is "legally wrong" and that all the items vetoed by Abbott are constitutional.
The new Texas budget is $210 billion, about half of which is state revenue spending that Abbott and lawmakers have the most power to control.