Backers of a proposed Wisconsin constitutional amendment that seeks to curb governors' powerful partial veto authority say the effort ensures the Legislature retains its power of the purse and prevents unauthorized spending.
Specifically, the Republican-supported amendment aims to bar Wisconsin governors from using their veto pens to raise spending levels over what lawmakers approved in the biennial budget and other appropriations bills.
The push, officially introduced in August, comes after Gov. Tony Evers used his veto power to increase per-pupil allocations by $87 million over the next two years as part of the current state budget, which he signed in July.
"I think that was a usurpation of what should be a core authority of the Legislature," co-author Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, said of the governor's partial veto during a public hearing Tuesday before a Senate panel.
He was just one of two individuals to testify about the bill before the committee. Both were in support of the language.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the panel countered the effort isn't needed because the Legislature already has recourse to counterbalance an unfavorable veto — and lawmakers haven't yet taken that step.
"What I am saying is that the governor is elected by more than you are, that we have a system to check him or her," Democratic Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, told Craig during the hearing. "And that system is a veto override."
In order to override a veto, two-thirds of the members present in both chambers need to agree to do so.
Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, R-New Berlin, is also a co-author of the amendment. No Democrats have signed on to the language.
In order to be adopted, the amendment would have to be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature before winning approval from the voters in a referendum.
Sen. Fred Risser also raised concerns, floating a scenario in which lawmakers vote to cut judicial salaries because they disagree with certain rulings, and asked whether a governor wouldn't be able to issue a veto in those situations because doing so would increase spending above the Legislature's intent.
"A vindictive Legislature could come up with some selective cuts," the Madison Democrat said.
Wisconsin voters have previously adopted amendments to curb the governor's veto powers in 1990 and 2008.
While Wisconsin governors hold the country's most powerful partial veto authority on spending measures, they aren't able to use the veto pen to create new words by striking out individual letters, and they can’t craft new sentences by combining parts of two or more lines in legislation.
Both limitations were imposed via constitutional amendments.
Craig, pointing to those changes, noted those votes show Wisconsin voters saw the executive branch's authority as "a bridge too far that needs to be curtailed."
Still, he added that even if the amendment is adopted, the governor's veto pen will likely remain among the strongest in the country.
WILL deputy council Lucas Vebber also testified in favor of the bill Tuesday, and he stressed the push "is not partisan" because governors of both parties have used the authority to increase spending.
Separately, the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit in July asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider the state’s veto rules and nullify four veto actions taken by Evers.
Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback slammed the proposal in a statement, lamenting that GOP lawmakers "are upset the governor used his broad veto authority to provide more money to our schools."
"Instead of devoting all their time and energy toward trying to override the will of the people and seeking political retribution for an election that happened almost a year ago, Republicans should get to work on the pressing issues facing our state," she said.
Craig, who chairs the Senate Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts Committee that held the hearing on the amendment, said the panel is liking going to meet again next week and could vote on the language at that time.