Topic:
GOVERNORS;
Location:
GOVERNOR'S OFFICE;

OLR Research Report


May 18, 2000

 

2000-R-0505

GUBERNATORIAL POWERS

 

By: Gregory Joiner, Research Fellow

You asked us to (1) describe the characteristics that make a governor's office strong or weak; (2) identify states with strong and weak governor systems; and (3) specifically focus on the governor's authority with respect to bond agendas, particularly in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Texas.

SUMMARY

Political scientists categorize governors as strong (powerful), weak, or something in between. Reasons for strength can derive variously from personality, personal wealth, electoral mandate, party or interest group structure, state statute, or the formal powers of the office itself.

According to the Council of State Governments, Kansas had the strongest governor system as of 1998. Other states with strong governor systems include: Indiana, Michigan, Montana, New York, Ohio, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. States with weak governor systems include: Mississippi, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

Although a rich array of qualitative and quantitative data characterizes gubernatorial powers, we found none that used the governor's authority with respect to bond agendas as an indicator. In Massachusetts, the governor has an important role in setting the bonding agenda. New Jersey's governor plays no role in the bonding process. In Texas, the governor is one of four officers on the Bond Review Board.

CHARACTERISTICS OF STRONG AND WEAK GOVERNOR OFFICES

Political scientists categorize governors as strong (powerful), weak, or something in between. Reasons for strength can derive variously from personality, personal wealth, electoral mandate, party or interest group structure, state statute, or the formal powers of the office itself.

The ability to be strong can vary within a particular state; for example, a governor may have considerable power over the executive branch but little in working with the legislature. A governor may have little power in dealing with either of these but have a close relationship with the president, which confers some significant power in the intergovernmental arena and even in the state.

The governors of the most populous states—California, New York, and Texas—are important and powerful in political circles. They have greater influence in national political conventions with their large state delegations and in Congress with their larger congressional delegations. They are often elevated to potential presidential candidacy just because they are governors of these states. The national press covers them closely, and focuses national attention on their state activities. In short, these governors have national power because of the states they head.

ANALYZING THE GOVERNOR OFFICES

Portions of this report (including the attached tables) are based on Thad Beyle's chapter, The Governors, from Politics in the American States: A Comparative Analysis (1999). Data was supplied by the Council of State Governments.

Institutional Powers

Tables 1 and 2 (attached) rate gubernatorial powers on a range of indicators using a five-point scale. Table 1 summarizes governors' institutional powers by state. The institutional powers of the governorship are those powers given the office by the state constitution, state statutes, and the voters when they vote on constitutions and referenda. In a sense, these powers are the structure within which the governor moves when elected to office. Indicators include: separately elected executive branch officials, tenure potential of governors, governor's appointment powers, governor's budgetary powers, governor's veto powers, and gubernatorial party control.

To assess and compare the fifty governors' institutional powers, the scores of each of the previously mentioned indicators were brought together into one index. Scores in each of the six indicators for each state governor were totaled and divided by six to keep within the framework of the five-point scale. As can be seen in the Governor's Institutional Powers (GIP) column in Table 1, the average score was 3.4. The seven governorships with the most institutional power on this scale at 4.0 or higher were mainly in the urban Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region (Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania). At the lower end of this index were eleven governorships scoring 2.9 or less, located mainly in the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina) and New England (New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont). The main weaknesses in the formal, institutional powers for these states lay in the presence of other statewide separately elected officials, reduced appointive power, and restricted veto power. Connecticut's score was 3.7.

Personal Powers

Table 2 summarizes the governor's personal powers by state. Each governor also has his or her own set of personal attributes that can be turned into either strength (power) or weakness, depending on the situation. Indicators include: governor's electoral mandate, governor's position on the state's political ambition ladder, the personal future of the governor, and gubernatorial job performance ratings in public opinion polls.

To assess and compare the fifty governors' personal powers, the scores of each of the previously mentioned indicators were brought together into one index. Scores in each of the four indicators for each state governor were totaled and divided by four to keep within the framework of the five-point scale. As indicated in the Governor's Personal Powers (GPP) column in Table 2, thirty-three of the governors fell in the 3.5 to 3.0 point range, with an average score of 3.8. The five governors with the most personal power held office in Indiana, Kansas, Montana, Vermont and Virginia. At the other end of this index – in other words, with the least personal power on this scale – was New Jersey's governor, who had narrowly won reelection in her final term of office. The Connecticut governor's score was 3.5 in this index.

Governor Offices Ranked

Finally, the two sets of gubernatorial powers were combined into one overall ten-point index. The results, presented in Table 3 (attached), show an average score of 7.2 (Connecticut's score was 7.4). At the high end of this combined index with scores of 8.0 or greater are eight states, with most either in the Midwest (Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin) or the West (Montana, Utah, and Wyoming), plus New York. At the low end of the scale with scores under 6.0 are two states in the South (Mississippi and South Carolina) plus Rhode Island. It is important to note, however, that these ratings (particularly, personal powers) may change as incumbents are replaced with a new group of men and women carrying with them their own personal styles and strengths or weaknesses.

GOVERNOR'S ROLE IN SETTING BOND AGENDAS

Massachusetts

Massachusetts' governor has a strong role in the bonding process:

1. The legislature votes on a series of bond bills - one in each subject area such as transportation, the environment, etc. This step is equivalent to Connecticut's legislative authorization process.

2. The governor decides which bonds will be issued and sends a series of "term bills" to the legislature for approval. Term bills specify the terms of issuance for the bonds. There is one term bill for each subject area.

New Jersey

New Jersey's constitution requires a voter referendum to issue General Obligation (GO) bonds. The procedure there is:

1. The legislature passes the GO bond bill.

2. The voters pass or reject the planned issuance.

3. If the voters approve, the bonds are issued.

Interestingly, the state uses very little GO bonding (only about 4% of the state's indebtedness). The legislature primarily uses bond issuance through different "authorities" – there are eight or nine of them for different purposes (environment, education, etc.). This type of bond issuance is not counted as GO debt because it does not pledge on the "full faith and credit of the State of New Jersey" to repay the bonds.

When the legislature passes a bill, the language specifies that the funding will be provided through one of the authorities. The state then signs a contract with the authority and the authority issues the bonds. The debt service due on the bonds is paid by the state making "rent" payments to the authority.

The main reason for this procedure is to avoid voter referendums. The feeling is that the voters tend to be capricious and cannot be depended on to provide a continuous stream of funding for large capital projects.

The role of the governor in this process is therefore, weak because the executive branch is not in control of the bond process in the same way that Connecticut's governor is.

Texas

Texas' governor has a weak role in the bonding process:

1. The legislature passes (a) a bond package and (b) a constitutional amendment that authorizes a voter referendum on the bond package.

2. The voters approve or reject the bond package during the next general election.

3. If the bond package passes, the state's Bond Review Board oversees the issuance of the bonds.

The Board is comprised of four members: the governor, lieutenant governor, House speaker, and comptroller. They decide if the interest rate, timing, and other details of the issuance are in the best interest of the state. If they are not, the board can refuse to issue the bonds pending an improvement in conditions. The governor's role in the bonding process is limited to vetoing the bond bill passed by the legislature and overseeing the issuance of the bonds by the Bond Review Board.

GJ:eh