Court Upholds Schwarzenegger’s Line-Item Vetoes Affecting AIDS Cuts

By Peter DelVecchio and Karen Ocamb

March 10, 2010

The intense battle between California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature just heated up. On March 2, a state appeals court upheld the governor’s line-item veto authority, which unilaterally eliminated $488 million in cuts to safety-net programs from last year’s budget revision. According to AIDS project Los Angeles, $85 million of those cuts were to the state’s HIV/AIDS budget, “leaving California’s Office of AIDS with only 20 percent of its funding for programs like HIV education and prevention, HIV counseling and testing, home health and early intervention.”

The court ruled 3-0 on a lawsuit filed by a coalition of advocacy groups—St. John’s Well Child and Family Center v. Schwarzenegger—that argued that Schwarzenegger overstepped his authority by going beyond the revised budget passed the Legislature. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Governors have the ability to use their line-item veto on ‘appropriations.’ Democrats and social service groups claimed that the July reductions did not qualify as appropriations.”

Kline, however, said the July budget revision did count as an appropriations, and that, “This argument amounts to little more than wordplay.”

Jim Mangia, the openly gay CEO of St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, told the Bee that his clinic—which sees 128,000 patients a year—has lost almost $1 million in funding from the line-item veto. He said the coalition is appealing the case to the California Supreme Court.

“We disagree strongly with the decision and we think the governor clearly overstepped his constitutional authority,” Mangia said. “We feel our legal argument was extremely sound. The appellate court has made a mistake.”

APLA also slammed the decision. “Once again, those who can least afford it must sacrifice basic needs to help keep California solvent,” said APLA Executive Director Craig E. Thompson. “Legalities aside, California’s HIV/AIDS prevention and care efforts are now crippled.”

The cuts cost APLA $1.9 million in fiscal year 2010, including more than $1 million in state funds intended for a men’s wellness center in South Los Angeles.