Data Tracker

When does a California governor fail to cut the budget? Rarely.

Gov. Jerry Brown announces his budget revise at the State Capitol in Sacramento on May 13. Brown signed the plan this week with no vetoes.
Gov. Jerry Brown announces his budget revise at the State Capitol in Sacramento on May 13. Brown signed the plan this week with no vetoes.

The California budget package passed by lawmakers last month offered Gov. Jerry Brown plenty of opportunities to reduce, or zero out, individual spending not to his liking.

Brown, though, kept his blue veto pencil in the drawer, and all of the more than $170 billion in general fund, special fund and bond spending in Senate Bill 826 survived without a scratch.

The lack of budget vetoes in the annual spending plan that takes effect Friday is exceptional, marking the first veto-free budget in 34 years. Acting on the final budget during his first stint in the statehouse, Brown also didn’t touch any of the package sent to him by the Legislature in early July 1982.

Before then, Ronald Reagan signed the last budget with no vetoes, in June 1970.

$483 millionTotal budget vetoes by Gov. Ronald Reagan in July 1971, which totaled about 6.7 percent of the 1971-1972 spending package.

Reagan, though, made up for it the following year. The Republican governor whacked $483 million from the 1971-72 plan, with almost all of the 52 vetoes hitting programs paid for out of the general fund, the source of money for most state services.

That represented more than 6 percent of spending in the package sent to Reagan, the highest share of any budget legislation in the past 50 years. The vetoed amount represents almost $2.9 billion in today’s dollars.

Every governor but Brown has vetoed more than $1 billion at least once, state records show. As the state slid into its dot-com bust at the start the last decade, Gray Davis vetoed almost $1.8 billion.

Pete Wilson cut more than $1.9 billion from the 1998-99 budget approved by the Legislature. And Arnold Schwarzenegger, during the depths of the last recession, cut a total of $1.4 billion from a pair of spending plans covering 2009-10.

Brown hasn’t done that much, but has used his budget veto power.

“I have my blue pencil poised,” he said in June 2011 as lawmakers worked on a budget to send him.

‘Blue pencil’ refers to the governor’s line-item budget veto power.

The vetoes sometimes are an unspoken part of agreements between lawmakers and governors – the Legislature can take credit with its constituencies for approving the spending, and the governor can spotlight frugality with the vetoes. Publicly, though, lawmakers don’t appreciate changes to their handiwork, and vetoes occasionally spark challenges.

The Legislature overrode some of Brown’s vetoes to the 1979-80 spending plan, but other override attempts have failed, mainly because of the difficulty getting the necessary two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

In 2009, legislative attorneys challenged the legality of some of Schwarzenegger’s vetoes. An ensuing lawsuit by Democratic legislative leaders and some social service groups failed to reverse them.

The Sacramento Bee’s Data Tracker is a weekly feature that offers a deeper look at the numbers behind today’s news. Jim Miller: 916-326-5521, @jimmiller2