Governor’s Veto Pen is running out of ink
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After this week, the governor’s office might just need a fresh veto pen.
Gov. John Lynch is finishing up his fourth and final term in the corner office with a record-setting flurry of vetoes. With a dozen vetoes this week alone, Lynch has passed Craig Benson for the most bills vetoed in a single term and the most vetoes of any governor in at least the last quarter century.
The avalanche of legislation crossing Lynch’s desk has forced a few sloppy mistakes. In his veto message on the Senate version of the School Choice Scholarship Act, Lynch erroneously argued that the bill didn’t means test every scholarship. He corrected his mistake when he vetoed the House version of the bill later in the week.
The General Court’s electronic Bill Status database dates back to 1989, so we can compare veto histories going back to Judd Gregg’s first term. Surprisingly, partisan differences between the governor and Legislature aren’t all that predictive of how many bills were vetoed or overridden.
Gregg and Steve Merrill each served two terms when Republicans held all the gavels, and each used the veto sparingly. Gregg vetoed just 15 bills and Merrill 27, with each being overridden just once. Both governors lost a fight over capital spending. Gregg objected to borrowing $7 million for improvements to the University of New Hampshire campus, while Merrill tried to stop the Legislature from borrowing $13 million for a new Manchester District Court. The Legislature likes to build things with borrowed money, no matter who’s in charge.
Gov. Jeanne Shaheen didn’t veto a single bill in her first term, but used the veto 16 times in her second term with Democrats controlling the state Senate. The split
Legislature overturned three of Shaheen’s vetoes, and when Republicans took back the Senate in 2000, the GOP majority failed to overturn any of Shaheen’s 18 vetoes.
Benson won the corner office in 2002 with strong Republican majorities, but showed little deference to party. He wielded a custom-made extra-large veto stamp, and vetoed the state budget for the first time in decades. Overall, Benson vetoed 21 bills in his single term, with four overturned. Both were the most in recent history, until this year.
Like Shaheen, Lynch was reluctant to veto bills coming from the Republican Legislature, objecting to just four in his first term. But he actually got more aggressive when Democrats took both Houses, vetoing five bills in his second term, and 10 in his third. During Lynch’s first three terms, the Legislature sustained every veto.
The massive GOP tidal wave in 2010 changed the dynamics in Concord. The 3-1 edge was about as big a partisan advantage as New Hampshire has ever had, but the wave didn’t make it all the way to the corner office.
A Democratic governor and Republican super-majorities set new standards for number of vetoes – and the rate at which those vetoes are being overridden.
From 1989 to 2010, the Legislature managed to overturn just nine vetoes from five governors. Lynch has already been overturned eight times in the past two years, with a dozen more vetoes on the docket this Wednesday.
By the time the Legislature adjourns, Lynch could set modern-day records for bills vetoed, bills overturned and lowest percentage of vetoes sustained.
While Lynch hasn’t hit for a high average, he has hit a couple of long balls. His vetoes kept New Hampshire in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and kept the Granite State from adopting Right to Work.
This week, the Legislature will decide whether to overrule the governor’s objections on school choice, voter ID, medical marijuana, fetal homicide, taxes and collective bargaining, among other issues. Those votes are important for New Hampshire. But they will also help define the legacy of a governor who may be most remembered for the laws he prevented.
Grant Bosse is lead investigator for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank based in Concord.
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