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Business group sues over Evers’ partial veto that extended school funding bump for 400 years

Evers extended an end date by centuries when he crossed out a hyphen and some numbers

The entrance to the Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers is seen in the state Capitol in Madison, Wis. March 14, 2024. A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday asked for arguments within two days related to a question over what legislative boundaries should be in place for a potential recall election organized by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Todd Richmond/AP Photo, File

A business group is suing over a partial veto used by Wisconsin’s Democratic governor last year to extend a funding bump to public schools for more than 400 years.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce filed the suit Monday before the state’s Supreme Court on behalf of two Wisconsin taxpayers. It argues the maneuver by Gov. Tony Evers violated Wisconsin’s Constitution.

Currently, the state limits the amount of money school districts can bring in, without first getting voter approval to raise property taxes. The version of the two-year state budget approved by lawmakers last year would have allowed districts to collect an additional $325 per student until 2025.

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But, in July, Evers used a partial veto to slash a few numbers and a hyphen, changing 2024-25 to an end date of 2425.

“His veto basically allows the districts to do that for 400 years running without having to check in with the voters and ask their permission,” WMC lobbyist Scott Manley said in an interview with WPR. “And we think that’s undemocratic. We think that the people’s voice should be heard.”

In other states, governors have the ability to strike parts of legislation by vetoing line by line.

But use of the partial veto, in which a governor strikes individual characters, is unique to Wisconsin. It’s been deployed by Democratic and Republican governors in the past, including by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker who used it to extend an end date for a state program by a thousand years, from 2018 to 3018.

Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson used a tactic referred to as the “Vanna White” veto, referencing the “Wheel of Fortune” gameshow host who reveals words letter by letter. That technique, in which the governor struck individual letters to create new words, was banned when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1990.

WMC’s lawsuit argues Evers’ use of the partial veto for school funding violates the 1990 amendment, as well as a section of Wisconsin’s Constitution that says appropriation bills must be approved by the governor in whole or “in part.”

In a statement Monday, an Evers spokesperson said the lawsuit would hurt students.

“Republicans and their allies will stop at nothing to take away resources from our kids and our public schools,” a spokesperson for the governor said in a statement. “Republicans’ latest lawsuit aims to strip over $300 from every student at every public school in Wisconsin for the foreseeable future even as millions of Wisconsinites are being forced to raise their own property taxes to help our schools make ends meet.”

In 2008, Wisconsin voters passed another constitutional amendment to kill the practice known as the “Frankenstein veto,” in which a governor would create a new sentence by combining parts of two or more sentences.

The lawsuit filed by WMC Monday is what’s known as a petition for original action, which is a formal request for the state Supreme Court to hear a case immediately, rather than letting it proceed through lower courts first.

Liberals currently hold a 4-3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.