(Updated 3:38 p.m.) When Gov. M. Jodi Rell went live on the air Tuesday, Sept. 1 to announce her decision not to sign the budget, did she know she couldn’t veto portions of it?
An email trail uncovered by the Hartford Courant Sunday revealed that members of her staff had internally debated the issue and at least some of them concluded a line-item veto was impossible to enact if Rell failed to sign the budget.
But it was a risk Rell was willing to take.
“The Governor sought and received the opinion of many attorneys and, frankly, the lawyers were divided on whether she had the authority to line-item veto pork barrel spending,” Rell’s spokeswoman Donna Tommelleo said in a statement Monday.
And while no state money was spent on outside legal counsel, Tommelleo said Rell asked a few lawyers in private practice for some advice. That advice conflicted with the advice that staff counsel, Anna Ficeto had given.
In a Sept. 1 email to Rell’s chief of staff M. Lisa Moody, Ficeto writes, “Based on a reading of the CT Constitution and case law, the Governor’s exercise of the line item veto would require her approval and signature of the remainder of the bill.”
Tommelleo said there are no emails of the conversations between Rell and the private lawyers because those conversations happened over the phone.
Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy DiNardo came up to the Capitol Monday to criticize Rell for misleading the public regarding her veto authority.
Rell should let the public know exactly what she knew and when she knew it, DiNardo said.
“I think its very important to find out whose running our government,” DiNardo said. “She’s the governor, not Lisa Moody. If she was aware of that why did she choose to ignore it?”
DiNardo said if Rell chose to ignore the advice it means she just wanted to take another shot at the legislature’s Democratic majority when she knew she couldn’t do it. “Her transparency in government, is apparently not so transparent,” she said describing the Sept. 1 announcement as a political move that was not in the best interest of Connecticut’s residents.
“The Governor sincerely appreciates the Democratic Party Chairwoman’s virtuous nonpolitical concern for Connecticut taxpayers,” Tommelleo said Monday.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal sent Rell a letter Sept. 4 saying a line-item veto of the budget was not in line with the state constitution.
“Very simply, you may impose a line item veto on individual items in a bill only if you sign it,” Blumenthal wrote in the Sept. 4 letter to Rell.
While she disagreed with Blumenthal’s decision, Rell said in a statement Sept. 8 that she would abide by it to save taxpayers from “a costly and protracted court fight.”
“The items I eliminated, however well-intentioned, were new expenses, added at the last minute by lawmakers who are simply unwilling – or unable – to say ‘no’ when it comes to spending taxpayer money,” Rell said Sept. 8. “I respectfully disagree with the Attorney General’s advice.”