AG: Lawmakers' budget powers are not absolute

Chris Rizo Jun. 5, 2009, 2:30pm

Wayne Stenehjem (R)

FARGO, N.D. (Legal Newsline)-North Dakota lawmakers are free to reject the governor's budget recommendations, the state attorney general said in a formal opinion issued Thursday.

Acknowledging that state legislators have ultimate authority over approving a state spending plan, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote that spending bills submitted by the governor and executive agencies are merely recommendations.

"The Legislature has the power to approve, disapprove, or amend these recommendations," Stenehjem wrote in response to House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo.

On May 11, Carlson asked Stenehjem, a Republican and former state legislator, for an opinion on the governor's budgeting authority.

Carlson's request for the AG's analysis came on the heels of Republican Gov. John Hoeven's veto of several sections of the state Legislature's budget bill.

The attorney general said the state constitution gives the governor power to draft budget bills for the Legislature to consider. The opinion did not say whether the governor's vetoes were out of line.

"It is my opinion that the Legislature does not have free rein to encroach upon the governor's constitutional power to present recommended legislation," Stenehjem wrote. "On the other hand, I do not believe that any hard and fast rule can be formulated which establishes that the governor's constitutional budget authority is totally exclusive, and that any legislative involvement would necessarily violate the separation of powers doctrine."

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