The partisanship of a policymaker is often noted as correlated with a state government’s support for social welfare. However, less attention has been paid to how a governor is able to steer the budget in a manner that reflects her political views. This study assesses how changes in the economy and the level of budgetary authority of the governor can jointly condition the effect of a governor’s partisanship on the change in social welfare spending. Using panel data for 49 US states from 1987 to 2014, we examine whether budgetary authority allows governors to respond to an economic contraction in the expected partisan manner. Using a three-way interaction model, we found that Democratic governors are more likely to increase social welfare funding when the economy contracts, particularly when she has higher budgetary authority relative to their non-Democratic counterparts. The results highlight how the state of the economy and institutional constraints jointly condition the budget process.