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Abney and Lauth: The item veto and fiscal responsibility

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Abney and Lauth. 1997. The item veto and fiscal responsibility. Journal of Politics 59:882-892.

In Brief

Research Question: Does the line-item veto promote fiscal responsibility?

Variables:

  • X: Type of line-item veto. (None, normal, reduction [can reduce appropriations, not just veto], narrative [can delete statutory language governing how to spend the appropriation]).
  • Y: Fiscal responsibility (sort of)

Method

In each state, they surveyed one legislative and one executive budget official. 99/100 responded. The results are based only on their perceptions of (1) whether the line-item veto promotes fiscal responsibility; (2) how frequently the governor uses it; (3) what type of line-item veto there is in the state.

Findings

The line-item veto does promote fiscal responsibility, especially if there is a reduction veto. Divided government does not matter.

Comments and Criticisms

The research question is sound, but the methods shed no real light on it. The authors fail to even control for basic things like what party controls each branch. They make an unconvincing attempt to control for divided government: if respondents listed "partisan differences" as a cause of using the line-item veto, then divided government mattered.

This is unpersuasive. Essentially, it appears that two researchers who don't know whether the line-item veto matters went and asked 99 people who also don't know. (These state officials may know everything about their own state, but we should not expect them to know much about how their state compares to other states, so it makes little sense to ask them to compare their state to others.)

The authors also ignore the possibility that vetos don't have to be used to be important; perhaps the threat is sufficient to change a bargaining situation.