Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger exceeded his constitutional powers by imposing nearly $500 million in additional spending cuts last week to balance California's budget, according to an opinion Wednesday by the Legislature's legal counsel.
Schwarzenegger drew fire from Democrats after he used his line-item veto authority to slice spending to health, welfare and other programs, going beyond the cuts that were part of a budget deal he struck just days earlier with legislative leaders.
A spokesman for the governor said Schwarzenegger acted properly and continues to stand by the decision to make those additional cuts to bring the budget fully into balance and provide a rainy-day reserve.
Democratic leaders contended that Schwarzenegger's cuts were to state programs that should have been off limits to the governor's blue pencil because they had been previously funded under a February budget agreement, which fell out of balance as state revenue plummeted.
"This clearly reinforces what we believe all along," said Assemblyman John Perez (D-Los Angeles), who requested the legislative counsel's opinion.
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said it underscored her feeling that Schwarzenegger's line-item vetoes "are as unconstitutional as they are unconscionable."
But a Schwarzenegger legal advisor said the governor acted well within the rules of law, which allows the state's top executive to delete spending appropriations on a case-by-case basis.
"The governor's authority to veto these appropriations is unquestioned," said Andrea Lynn Hoch, the governor's legal affairs secretary.
She added that any attempt by the Legislature to improperly limit the governor's veto authority would be struck down by the courts.
Several nonprofit groups that would see their funding slashed because of the governor's line-item cuts are expected to file a lawsuit seeking to reverse the spending reductions.
In a four-page letter, the legislative counsel cited two specific cuts by Schwarzenegger -- an additional $6 million he sliced from the Department of Aging, and $1 million in funding denied Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
In all, the governor slashed more than $487 million in spending from programs such as children's healthcare, state parks, AIDS treatment and prevention, domestic violence programs and services for abused and neglected children.
Legislative leaders have vowed to restore the funding when they return for their final month of the session in mid-August.
"It will be our first order of business," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).
"By hook or by crook, we're not going to rest until those cuts are restored," Steinberg said.