For most politicians, support for good-government practices — including reasonable limits on the governor’s partial veto powers — hinges on partisan advantage.
If their governor wields the veto pen, anything goes. But if the governor represents the opposing political party, they demand restrictions.
Thankfully, Wisconsin voters are much more consistent and wise. Voters have twice — by overwhelming margins — approved state constitutional amendments banning the most outlandish veto abuses.
And the voting public will surely do so again, if given the chance.
Similarly, our State Journal editorial board will support further restraint, regardless of who is in power. We favored ending the most egregious vetoes of two governors we repeatedly endorsed for election — Republican Tommy Thompson and Democrat Jim Doyle. And we will support outlawing Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ excessive veto, even though we favored his election.
On this week's "Center Stage" political podcast, Milfred and Hands look back at monstrous vetoes from Wisconsin's past, and ahead to further constitutional limits in light of Gov. Tony Evers' latest vetoes. Evers used his remaining partial veto powers to "undelete" language lawmakers had removed from the state budget. That's being called the "zombie" veto because he brought dead language back to life. Evers then combined some of the numbers he resuscitated with other numbers in the budget to increase spending by tens of millions of dollars -- without legislative approval.
That’s because checks and balances in state government are vital to our democracy. Principle must rise above politics.
Sen. David Craig and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch, both Republicans from Waukesha County, proposed a constitutional amendment this month to stop Wisconsin governors from using their veto pen to increase spending. The lawmakers are mad that Evers was able to increase school spending by $84 million more than the GOP-run Legislature approved.
A veto, by definition, is supposed to limit or prevent something from happening. But Evers unilaterally hiked state aid. He used his veto pen to “undelete” two numbers that lawmakers had removed from existing law. Then he added those numbers to others, steering extra dollars to education.
In other words, he made law, which is supposed to be the job of lawmakers. The courts, unfortunately, have allowed governors to turn the state’s veto pen into a magic wand, leaving it up to voters to pare back the most ridiculous and offensive powers.
And that’s precisely what voters have done, with State Journal editorial support.
Voters overwhelmingly banned the “Vanna White” veto in 1990, which had allowed Gov. Thompson to veto around individual letters to spell new words. The Vanna White veto was named after the celebrity who turns letters on “Wheel of Fortune.”
Then in 2008, voters slayed the “Frankenstein” veto. Gov. Doyle had used partial vetoes to increase spending by more than $300 million on schools. He did it by vetoing all but 33 unrelated words and figures across two pages of the state budget to create a new sentence, stitching together his creation like Dr. Frankenstein stitched his monster.
Republicans didn’t object loudly to GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s vetoes under one-party rule. But now they want to scale back the powers of his successor, Gov. Evers. This is the same GOP that rigged voting districts, dismantled the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, and tried to gut the open records law. So partisan advantage is a motivating factor.
Nonetheless, further limits are justified. Even if you support more money for schools, a future governor could unilaterally hike spending on something you don’t like, be it prisons or pet projects for special interests. A veto should stop the Legislature from doing something, not create or expand appropriations. We’re sure most voters agree.