The governor’s constitutional authority to veto budget line items trumps a state law requiring him to bow to the Legislature when it resolves labor collective bargaining impasses, a divided 1st District Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
The majority conceded that, under the state Labor Code, “any actions taken by the Legislature shall bind the parties” — meaning a public employee union and the governor.
“Based primarily on a statute, appellant asks us to recognize a limitation on the governor’s constitutional authority to review the (General Appropriations Act), even though the Constitution explicitly allows the governor to veto the GAA or ‘any specific appropriation in a general appropriation bill,’ ” Timothy Osterhaus wrote for the majority.
“We cannot accept appellant’s invitation. The Florida Constitution clearly articulates the governor’s authority to veto the GAA, or specific appropriations therein. It authorized him to veto the raise appropriation here,” the court said.
“That appellant’s members possess constitutional collective bargaining rights does not alter the governor’s constitutional authority with respect to the GAA. … The governor’s action in this case comported with his constitutional authority.”
Judge Harvey Jay also signed the majority opinion.
The dispute involved Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a $2,000 raise the Legislature OK’d for members of the International Association of Firefighters Local S-20 — representing the Florida Forest Service — for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015.
In a dissent, Judge Bradford Thomas noted that the Florida Constitution also enshrines public employees’ right to bargain collectively.
“Here, the public employees’ argument should prevail, which would not otherwise significantly impair the governor’s general veto authority and properly harmonizes conflicting provisions of organic law,” Thomas wrote.
He cited the principle that, “if possible, amendments to the Constitution should be construed so as to harmonize with other constitutional provisions, but if this cannot be done, the amendment being the last expression of the will of the people will prevail.”
Otherwise, he wrote, the right to collective bargaining is “eviscerated.” Persuading majorities in the House and Senate to approve a salary increase is “herculean,” but requiring the supermajorities necessary to override a veto “in essence holds that public employees have no effective constitutional right to collective bargaining.”
Thomas suggested vetoes of such line items might be justified by “a compelling public interest, such as a budgetary emergency.”
He cited precedents through which the Florida Supreme Court refused to allow the Legislature rescind a pay raise it had approved for university faculty, or to force a contract approved by a governor to bind the Legislature.
“The question at issue here is whether the governor, by using his veto power, may unilaterally vacate the Legislature’s decision to resolve a collective-bargaining impasse,” Thomas wrote. “Based on logic, precedent, and the constitutional basis of public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the correct answer is no.”