MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers used his veto powers to steer an additional $65 million toward education in the 2019-21 biennial budget. A proposed constitutional amendment would prevent future governors from taking similar action.
State Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, whose district includes the Waterford area in Racine County, and state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, are circulating a memorandum for co-sponsorship of a bill that would prohibit a governor from using a partial veto to increase expenditures.
Craig said that during the 2019 budget cycle Evers “aggressively modified the Legislature’s budget with his partial veto to increase state spending by over $84 million without approval from the Legislature, the branch of government closest to taxpayers.”
“The Legislature’s role in the budget process has been continually eroded by the executive branch, and it is beyond time we right-size the governor’s veto pen to protect taxpayers and restore the Legislature’s constitutional authority,” Craig said in a statement. “This amendment will ensure that the will of taxpayers, through their elected representatives, will have final say in limiting the overall spending in the state budget.”
Craig was one of two Republicans to vote against the budget which passed both the Republican-controlled Senate and Assembly. The other was state Sen. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, whose 11th Senate District includes the southwest corner of the Town if Burlington in Racine County.
To change the Wisconsin Constitution, the measure would have to go through a multi-year process that would require it passing both the Senate and Assembly in two consecutive legislative sessions, then being put up for a statewide referendum for citizens to approve or deny the proposal.
Recently there was a constitutional amendment proposal that would have dissolved the Office of the State Treasurer, but voters rejected that in a statewide referendum in 2018.
If the Craig-Kuglistch proposal made it through the process and the state’s constitution were amended, future governors would be affected regardless of party.
The Governor’s Office has one of the strongest veto powers in the country. It allows the governor to veto individual words that could change the purpose of a sentence. For example, if the budget stated “The state may not ...” the governor could veto the word “not,” which would reverse the meaning of the sentence.
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Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has stated in the past he is in favor of the veto power that Evers has. But he said he also in favor of the Craig-Kuglitsch constitutional amendment proposal.
“It’s common sense to not be able to increase spending through a veto,” Vos said in a statement. “I plan to have a caucus discussion on the amendment in the near future.”
Melissa Baldauff, communications director for the Evers administration, said Republicans are “sore losers” who “want to change the rules every time they don’t get their way.”
“Republicans in the Legislature chose to ignore the will of the people, but Gov. Evers listened to the people who overwhelmingly said they wanted to see more investments in our public schools,” Baldauff said in a statement. “To be clear, this is a temper tantrum in response to Gov. Evers using his authority to align the budget more closely with the will of the people and put more money into our kids’ schools.”
Scott Kelly, chief of staff for state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, said Wanggaard has not yet voiced his opinion on the amendment but is likely to be in favor of it.
“His first reaction upon hearing that Gov. Evers used his veto to increase spending was surprise that governors had that power,” Kelly said. “He thought that the previous limitations on vetoes had already prohibited increasing spending. Like the Vanna White and Frankenstein veto prohibitions, this seems like a reasonable limitation no matter who is governor.”
A “Frankenstein veto” occurs when a governor selectively deletes words from a bill, stitching together the remainder to form a new bill different from that passed by the Legislature.
The “Vanna White veto,” which was eliminated in 1990, allowed governors to delete individual letters and numbers in a bill to change the intent of the legislation.
“The Legislature’s role in the budget process has been continually eroded by the executive branch, and it is beyond time we right-size the governor’s veto pen to protect taxpayers and restore the Legislature’s constitutional authority.” State Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon
“The Legislature’s role in the budget process has been continually eroded by the executive branch, and it is beyond time we right-size the governor’s veto pen to protect taxpayers and restore the Legislature’s constitutional authority.”
State Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon