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GOP Lawmakers Propose Limiting Governor’s Veto Power

Proposal Would Bar Executive Branch From Using Veto To Increase Spending

Wisconsin State Capitol
beautifulcataya (CC BY-NC-ND)

Republican state lawmakers are proposing a resolution that would limit the veto powers of Wisconsin governors less than a week after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers issued 68 partial vetoes of the state budget.

The proposal, sponsored by Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, would bar the governor from making any vetoes that increase state spending.

Evers used his veto pen to increase K-12 education spending in the budget by about $65 million.

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“This unilateral abuse of power taken by the executive branch cannot go unchecked by the Legislature without seriously damaging the separation of powers doctrine in Wisconsin,” Craig and Kuglitsch wrote in the resolution’s sponsorship memo.

The lawmakers also wrote the “power of the purse” is held by the Legislature as a means of preserving a balance of power between the branches of government, particularly in regard to limiting the executive branch.

They called Evers’ veto a “power grab.”

The governor’s spokeswoman, Melissa Baldauff, dismissed the proposal as the action of “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. “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.

The proposal appears to have a footing in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, issued a statement Tuesday saying he supports the plan.

“Governors of both parties have used their partial veto powers to increase appropriations above what is authorized by the Legislature, which is concerning to lawmakers who are tasked with setting spending levels,” Fitzgerald said in the statement. “I look forward to discussing this resolution in the coming months.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, also said he supports the resoution.

“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.”

Wisconsin governors have one of the most powerful veto pens in the country, with the power to remove words, numbers and punctuation from spending bills.

Former Gov. Scott Walker issued 99 partial vetoes of the last state budget of his administration.

Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was also a frequent user of the veto pen.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday after a conservative think-tank event in Madison, Thompson said he supports the potential change.

“I’m not going to criticize a governor for vetoes, but there’s one area I don’t think governors should be able to veto and I think that’s increasing appropriations,” Thompson said. “That’s left up to the Legislature.”

Wisconsin governor’s veto power has been limited gradually over the past 30 years through constitutional amendments.

In order for a constitutional amendment to go into effect it must pass two consecutive sessions of the state Legislature and then be approved by a statewide voter referendum.

In 1990, voters approved limiting the governor’s ability to delete letters from words to create new ones, a practice called the “Vanna White veto.”

In 2008, they stripped the governor’s power to delete words to create new sentences, which was called the “Frankenstein veto.”

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