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The Legislative Counsel Bureau issued a four-page opinion Wednesday asserting that the bulk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $489 million in budget line-item vetoes was illegal.

The Republican governor last week cut various sectors of government to help balance the budget and build a $500 million reserve, focusing many of his line-item vetoes on social services such as state Office of AIDS programs and Healthy Families.

He said he was forced to do so because the Assembly at the last hour rejected $1.1 billion in solutions that would have taken local gas tax money and approved an offshore oil lease.

Democratic leaders immediately cried foul, saying the governor could not use his line-item veto authority in this situation. Their main contention was that the Legislature had passed a budget revision that cut appropriations rather than spent money as in normal budget acts. They feel the governor can only use line-item vetoes in cases where the state is spending more money, not less.

But Department of Finance Director Mike Genest insisted the governor was within his legal right to veto spending in the budget revision Schwarzenegger signed last Tuesday. His office said the state constitution allows the governor to adjust any appropriations bill.

Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine, whose office provides legal counsel to the Legislature, responded to a request from Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, on the legality of the governor's vetoes. Boyer-Vine, along with Deputy Legislative Counsel Michael P. Beaver, concluded that the constitution only allows the governor to veto "items of appropriation. They said, based on precedent, that term does not apply to previously enacted appropriations.

Bass last week charged that Schwarzenegger had taken "punitive measures against children and AIDS patients."

Assemblyman John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, said Wednesday that lawmakers won't file suit against the vetoes, but he anticipates that "several groups" who would suffer from the cuts are preparing legal action. Perez said he anticipates that lawmakers would file amicus briefs rather than take action themselves.

Lawmakers may seek other solutions in the Capitol. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said yesterday in a statement that his first priority when lawmakers return later this month will be to restore the governor's cuts.

Genest said last week that Schwarzenegger is open to doing so if lawmakers can find new ways to replace the savings.

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