The state Attorney General’s Office has cast doubt upon whether the legislature can override Governor Jay Nixon’s cuts to the current year’s budget, but lawmakers say they’re going to move ahead as if they can.

A stack of state budget bills (file photo).

A stack of state budget bills (file photo).

The legislature’s budget chairman said Tuesday morning they had identified about 50 items costing about $40-million dollars that they will attempt to override the vetoes of.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey sent a letter asking Attorney General Chris Koster’s office whether the legislature could overturn budget vetoes by taking up entire bills, or if it would have to take up individual spending lines.

The Attorney General’s office responded with an opinion that “under a strict reading” of the state Constitution, the general assembly may not override line-item vetoes after its regular session adjourns in the spring.

The Attorney General’s office did acknowledge that legislatures have overturned line-item vetoes in the veto session in the past. It says such override attempts should be made line-by-line rather than bill-by-bill.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer doesn’t disagree with the Attorney General’s opinion.

“I agree there is som ambiguity in there,” says Schaefer, but he says the legislature will proceed with override attempts. “We’re going to do what legislatures have done for many, many decades … there certainly is precedent for that and that’s how we’re going to proceed.”

House Speaker Tim Jones says he’s looked at the sections of the Constitution dealing with budget veto overrides. He agrees the language leaves some questions.

“As us attorneys do, there’s room there for argument on both sides. Probably something that’s going to need to be clarified in the years ahead.”

Governor Nixon’s office issued a statement in response to the Attorney General’s opinion, seizing the opportunity to again urge lawmakers not to overturn his vetoes.

“As Governor, I am committed to maintaining fiscal discipline and ensuring that state government lives within its means,” Nixon writes. “That is why, after the legislature added scores of new programs and spending items to the budget that the state simply cannot afford, line-item vetoes were necessary to prevent the growth of government beyond its means. Senate President Pro Tem Dempsey sought this legal opinion and now that it has been issued, the legislature should be guided by its legal conclusion.”