Veto! - 3d Illustration

Veto! - 3d Illustration by DonkeyHotey

Tuesday evening at the Anchorage Assembly meeting, the Mayor surprised quite a few people when he stood up after an amendment was passed.  The ordinance was still being debated.  The Mayor said, “I veto that amendment.”

People scratched their heads.  One assembly member said, “Line item veto power is only for budget and appropriations measures.”  The clerk said there needs to be a written explanation with the veto.  The mayor claimed he had an opinion from the Municipal Attorney saying he could veto an amendment. (And the clerk told me today he’d quickly written his explanation.)

Thursday I got hold of the opinion the mayor cited.  The amazing part was that it was written by the previous mayor’s municipal attorney in 2006.  Who was that mayor?  Now US Senator Mark Begich.  Begich never used that power.  In fact, in six years as mayor he only vetoed one ordinance.

I’ve posted the opinion on my blog What Do I Know?

The basic argument, on deeper reflection seems weak.  When the City and Borough of Anchorage were merged into the Municipality of Anchorage in 1975, the Charter Commission chose to have a strong mayor form of government.   A 1975 Attorney interpretation that the Charter intended to not weaken the veto power of the old Borough mayor said,

the mayor of the Greater Anchorage Area Borough exercised a veto power over “any ordinances, resolutions, motions, or other actions of the Assembly.”

In 2006, then Municipal Attorney Boness, in answer to a question about whether the mayor could veto an amendment, wrote,

BRIEF ANSWER:    Subject to the following Background and Discussion, my Brief Answer is the mayor has broad general veto power. The mayor may veto an amendment to a proposed ordinance. The timing of the veto is dependent upon the goal to be achieved by the amendment. Assuming your goal is to prevent an amendment from becoming part of the ordinance under consideration but not to prevent the ordinance itself from being further considered by the Assembly, the veto should be made immediately after the Assembly votes to approve the amendment and before the Assembly considers the proposed ordinance.”

This was the basis for the Mayor’s claim he could veto the amendment.

As best as I can tell, them Municipal Attorney Boness took the words “or other actions” and decided they included vetoing amendments in the middle of the legislative debate on an ordinance.

The 1975 opinion quotes part of the Charter’s veto language:

The mayor has the veto power.    The veto must be exercised and submitted to the Assembly with a written explanation within seven Bays of passage of the ordinance affected.

It then goes on:

The question is whether the second sentence, dealing with the mechanics of exercise of the power, operates as a limitation on the first sentence which grants “the veto power” without qualification.

He concluded it didn’t.

In a later amendment to the Charter the following language was added to the veto section:

The mayor also has line item veto power. The mayor may, by veto, strike or reduce items in a budget or appropriation measure.

If a line item veto is seen as vetoing one part of an ordinance, one could conclude that vetoing an amendment that then becomes part of an ordinance would be like a line item veto.  If the ordinance is not a budget or appropriation measure, then it would seem to be outside the power of the mayor.

I’m posting here, not to bore people with all these details, but to see if anyone has heard of any governmental body where the executive could veto an amendment in the middle of the legislative session, before the legislation being amending is even passed.

It seems to me that there are separation of powers issues here and I’d just like to know if there are  precedents for something like this. And I’m sure there’s a lot I’ve missed that someone here might catch.   Thanks.




Retired Alaskan professor.

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