Republican lawmakers are pushing for a constitutional amendment to prevent governors from increasing spending with their veto pen, marking the latest attempt to chip away at Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ power.
The Senate Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts discussed the constitutional amendment Thursday. The resolution comes three months after Evers tweaked numbers in the 2019-21 biennial budget to boost education spending by $84 million.
State Sen. David Craig, R-Big Bend, said the resolution would further restore the Legislature’s “power of the purse,” or authority over state spending.
“It’s a fairly straightforward bill, in that we’re limiting an increase in appropriations or increase in spending in a certain area,” Craig said during a Tuesday committee meeting.
Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said he worried the resolution comes with potential unintended consequences, such as eliminating the governor’s ability to strike a vindictive salary cut, for example. He added the Legislature already has a tool to address the governor’s veto power — the ability to override a veto with a super-majority vote.
“They have the right and the power to override the governor’s veto if the governor does something the Legislature doesn’t like,” Risser said.
Craig said the resolution is in response to partial vetoes by several previous governors, but specifically noted Evers’ use of the partial veto to increase school funding by about $84 million more than the Republican-controlled Legislature intended. Evers did so by taking a $630 per-pupil dollar amount the Legislature had deleted from existing law, restoring the “$63” and adding that new number to a different per pupil amount the Legislature had created.
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Republicans regarded the move as a “power grab.”
“I think that was a usurpation of what should be a core authority of the Legislature,” Craig said.
The resolution, which ultimately would have to go before voters, would prohibit the governor’s ability to increase state expenditures when issuing a partial veto.
“It’s unfortunate that Republicans are upset the governor used his broad veto authority to provide more money to our schools,” Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said in a statement. “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.”
Previous constitutional amendments have prohibited the governor from making wholesale changes to the budget by combining parts of two words or removing individual letters to create new words.
Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, also pointed to the Legislature’s existing ability to override a veto and regarded the proposed resolution as a “willy nilly” effort to change the constitution.
“I think our constitution is precious,” she said. “I think more than anything, the authority of the Legislature, the governor and the judicial branch are, frankly, I think balanced … by changing this we will disrupt the balance.”
Just last week, Assembly Republicans passed new rules allowing for multiple veto override votes.
Republicans said the new rule allows for times when lawmakers change their minds on a matter, while Democratic lawmakers have raised concerns it could allow Republicans to hold surprise votes when they know they have a super-majority present.
Last December, after Democrats swept all five statewide offices, but before former Gov. Scott Walker left office, the Republican-controlled Legislature adopted several laws limiting the power of the governor and attorney general. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to hear a challenge to those laws next week.