The preceding sections examined the pivotal roles that governors must play when occupying the office today. To fulfill these many roles, governors must have a variety of tools, resources, and powers at their disposal. These assets come in a variety of forms. Some powers come from the office of the governorship itself. These are called formal, or institutional, powers. Enabling powers also derive from the office. Enabling powers are the staff and other support that the state provides to work for and with the governor. Other powers come from the situation at the time of the governor’s term. Still other powers are inherent in the person who holds the office. These powers related to the particular incumbent are called informal powers. Of course, many different powers may come into play as governors pursue all of their varied roles. Some powers are important in only one of the roles; others are significant across multiple roles. The powers of the governors are discussed in the next sections.
Reformers and researchers have directed quite a good deal of attention to the formal powers of the governor’s office, perhaps because such powers are the easiest to identify and define. When the office provides few formal powers, a governor has to turn to other resources to have a chance at success in his or her official endeavors. These other powers are less concrete and more variable from one governor to the next and are decidedly hard for researchers to systematically measure. Over time, states have made significant changes in the powers bestowed on the governors. Joseph Schlesinger (1965) first developed an index of gubernatorial powers that rated the states’ governors in terms of types of powers, allowing observers to compare the powers possessed by governors across the states.
This index measured four aspects of formal powers of the governor: tenure potential (length of terms eligible to serve and successive terms allowed); budget power (degree of gubernatorial control in preparing the budget); appointment power (degree of gubernatorial control over appointment of key state administrators); and finally, veto power (determined by the item veto power of the governor combined with the size of legislative majority required for override). This index has been widely employed (and criticized) in the literature. Studies have used it to examine the relationship between formal powers and a variety of other conditions in the states. These studies have examined the association of formal powers with many areas, including: gubernatorial support of agency budget requests (Sharkansky 1968), managing the bureaucracy (Hebert, Brudney, and Wright 1983; Brudney and Hebert 1987), and legislative leadership (Dilger, Krause, and Moffett 1995; Ferguson 2003).
Though the index is widely used by researchers, some have complained that it does not accurately reflect the full range of resources governors have. This complaint has greater relevance today, as the governorships now possess resources that were not initially included in Schlesinger’s design. These new resources include, for example, the joint election of governors and lieutenant governors, the amendatory veto, and the development of gubernatorial staffs (Dometrius 1987). Formal powers of the governors and the four features of the formal power index described here should not be viewed as the full explanation of the power of the governor: as noted throughout this discussion formal powers are only one component of the resources governors can use. But even if they are not the whole story, they are a good place to begin because they provide a systematic means to look at power across the governor’s offices in the fifty states.
The veto is the governors’ power to say no to legislation that they oppose. It is the single most important power governors have for affecting the making of law in the states. Again, this power varies from state to state. There are