SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has been busy with his veto pen, but it is likely all for nothing.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has been busy with his veto pen, but it is likely all for nothing.

Quinn has vetoed 30 pieces of legislation from the 97th General Assembly, which was sworn in January. Lawmakers will return Oct. 25 to Springfield to act on the governor’s vetoes.

But an analysis of vetoes from the 96th General Assembly does not bode well for Quinn.

The governor has a poor track record with his vetoes, with almost 90 percent being overturned or left to die in the Legislature.

From July 2010 to January, Quinn vetoed 18 pieces of legislation passed during the 96th General Assembly.

Lawmakers accepted only one veto that changed the effective date on a law that dealt with substitute teacher registration. Another line-item/reduction veto on the state budget was allowed to stand.

Of the remaining vetoes, lawmakers overrode three: Quinn’s bid to create a citizen’s initiative process, to keep evaluations for only police officers and prison guards out of the public record, and to change another effective date.

Thirteen vetoes died either because lawmakers did not have votes to accept or override the veto or never called the vetoed legislation for a vote.

That should not be surprising to anyone in Springfield, especially Quinn, said Jim Nowlan, former state representative and current senior fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

“In about the 1980s, when Jim Thompson was governor, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan felt the governor was trying to make substantive changes with his amendatory vetoes,” said Nowlan. “The speaker decided not to take up those amendatory vetoes. That resulted in a total veto of the legislation.”

In other words, Nowlan said Madigan, D-Chicago, decided the Legislature not only writes the laws but interprets most amendatory vetoes as going beyond the scope of a governor’s power.

Quinn “can almost be assured that if he applies an amendatory veto that is substantive in nature — that is makes a significant change in the original legislation — it will not be acted on by the speaker,” Nowlan added.

Nowlan’s assessment of what he calls the “Madigan rule” bears out.

In 2010, 15 of Quinn’s 18 vetoes were amendatory vetoes. The Illinois Constitution gives the governor the power to change a portion of the legislation, rather than having to veto the entire proposal. The only amendatory veto accepted by lawmakers last year — the only veto accepted in 2010 — changed the effective date on legislation dealing with substitute teachers.

In every case where Quinn changed the substance of legislation, lawmakers left the governor’s changes to wither and die in the legislative process.

For example, legislation that would have prevented the governor from sweeping funding away from fire prevention was never called for a vote in the fall veto session after Quinn tweaked the proposal to give his office access to 2.5 percent of the money.

Other vetoes were called in the House but not the Senate, or vice versa.

University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor Kent Redfield said the “Madigan rule” is unwritten, but clear.

“When (a governor) writes a very broad amendatory veto or throws something into an amendatory veto that is not related to the subject of the bill, you are treading on the prerogative of the legislative branch,” added Redfield.

Quinn has issued 30 vetoes so far in 2011, 16 of which are amendatory vetoes.

Redfield said the governor can expect many of those amendatory vetoes to die this year as well.

Quinn’s spokeswoman, Annie Thompson, focused on Quinn’s veto intentions.

“Quinn will continue working to make sure our laws continue to protect consumers and strengthen ethics and transparency in government,” she said.

But Redfield warns that the governor’s good intentions may not pay off.

“Quinn is in a situation where he is perceived as being weak,” Redfield said. “He’s used his amendatory vetoes in ways that haven’t had anything to do with using his leverage, so he hasn’t been as effective.”

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