With a wink and a nod, governor gets unfettered powers

One way for lawmakers to get what they want without having to be responsible to voters is to abdicate their Constitutional authority to the governor. What a great scheme: Give the governor the power to spend taxpayers’ money without legislative oversight and legislators won’t have to take responsibility with the voters.

Under the state Constitution, the governor introduces the budget and the legislature appropriates the funds. It’s a checks-and-balance system among equal branches of government. Over the years, when there were hard budget decisions to be made, the Democratic-controlled legislature has increasingly handed over more and more of its appropriations authority to the governor. The outcome of this “wink and nod” system is reduced transparency and accountability in our state government. The surrender of the legislature’s appropriation responsibility offers individual lawmakers cover with their constituents. They can throw up their hands and proclaim the increased spending on unpopular programs was not in the budget when they voted on it. They, of course, are being both disingenuous and deceptive because they knew all along that the plan to give more authority to the governor would result in more spending not only on the things they couldn’t vote for but wouldn’t have voted for otherwise. A wink and a nod. 

This year, the Democratic majority did it again, this time creating “emergency rules” authorizing the governor to make spending decisions when it comes to paying healthcare expenses for a growing number of undocumented immigrants.  

“Where’s the emergency?” asked State Representative Steve Reick. “The first step of the emergency rulemaking process requires the administration to define the emergency that prompted the rulemaking and is intended to apply only to true emergencies that require immediate action, such as natural disasters and more recently the COVID pandemic. This Medicaid program has been in place for a year. There is no emergency except the one created by a legislature and administration that was hell-bent on creating a program to serve a powerful political constituency with no consideration of the cost. When the true cost came to light, the administration panicked, and this bill was the result.”

Earlier in the year, the General Assembly received a report that it would cost the state $1.1 billion to add more undocumented immigrants to the free healthcare rolls.  An expense that big would mean other important state programs would need to be cut, or taxes increased if we were to fund the program for non-citizens. A hard decision for some Democrats – but then they found a way not to make a decision themselves. They would leave it up to the governor.  So, the legislature appropriated half the amount needed for the expansive program and then passed “emergency rules” that would allow the governor to move money around, any way he saw fit, to pay for the outstanding amount. This way the voters would be none the wiser.

“Those health care services are not available for matching funds from the federal government, and we’ve basically kicked the can over to the governor and given him additional emergency rulemaking power,” said House Republican Deputy Leader Ryan Spain. “ That was the same power he wielded during the pandemic.”

The General Assembly needs to take back its appropriation-making powers and vote on every line item. It is the only way to maintain a balance of power and keep government accountable to the people. No wink or nod needed.