Steinberg to take Schwarzenegger to court over budget cuts

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said Friday that he will sue Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, challenging his use of line-item vetoes last month to make nearly $500 million in spending cuts to the budget.

The Sacramento Democrat said he will file the lawsuit as an individual in San Francisco County Superior Court early next week and will tap political funds to pay for the legal action.

“We elected a governor, not an emperor,” Steinberg said at a Capitol news conference. “In making these line-item vetoes, the governor forced punishing cuts on children, the disabled and patients that he couldn’t win fairly at the bargaining table. And in doing so, he overstepped his constitutional authority.”

On Wednesday, the Legislature’s legal counsel issued an opinion that Schwarzenegger exceeded his constitutional powers by imposing the cuts on health, welfare and other programs.


Democratic leaders argued that the items cut should have been off limits to the governor’s blue pencil because they had been previously funded under a February budget agreement. That budget fell out of balance as state revenue plummeted.

The Legislature sent the governor a budget fix July 24 that left the state in deficit, without a reserve, forcing the governor to find more cuts, according to Aaron McLear, a Schwarzenegger spokesman.

“The governor’s constitutional authority to veto appropriations is unquestioned and will be upheld by the courts,” McLear said. “While Democrats are focused on a protracted legal battle to dig the state back into deficit, the governor will continue to focus on moving our state forward and getting Californians back to work.”

Steinberg said he is open to having the governor propose an alternative to the budget cuts. He may seek a court injunction to block the cuts pending resolution of the constitutional issue.


Steinberg is not the first elected Democrat to battle with Schwarzenegger in court this year. State Controller John Chiang argued unsuccessfully in Superior Court in March that the governor did not have power to furlough employees in the controller’s office.