Wisconsin Supreme Court: Three of Governor Evers’ Budget Vetoes Unconstitutional

Court strikes down 3 of 4 budget vetoes in WILL original action

The News: The Wisconsin Supreme Court held that three of Governor Tony Evers’ budget vetoes, challenged by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), were unconstitutional. A fourth veto was upheld. The decision in Bartlett v. Evers, a WILL original action filed in July 2019, held that Governor Evers’ partial vetoes of the school bus modernization fund, the local roads improvement fund, and a veto to expand the definition of vapor products were unconstitutional. The Court upheld a veto that altered uniform vehicle registration fees for trucks.

The Quote: WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said, “Governor Evers used the partial veto power to create new laws never approved by the legislature. The Court’s decision recognizes limits to the partial veto power that will safeguard liberty and uphold the separation of powers. While there are multiple writings and their interaction is complex, today’s decision severely limits and perhaps even ends the Governor’s power to create new law through vetoes.”

The Lawsuit: When Governor Evers signed the state budget on July 3, 2019, he carved it up with partial vetoes. This is a common practice. Wisconsin’s partial veto power is, famously, one of the most powerful and expansive in the country. But it is not a magic wand that governors can use to change the fundamental policy measures contained in approved budget provisions. WILL’s complaint argued that Governor Evers violated the law when he used the partial veto to fundamentally change several policies enacted by the legislature. Four examples:

  • A partial veto turned what was a grant program to replace school buses into funding of up to $10 million for electric vehicle charging stations.
  • A partial veto altered funds to local government for improving local roads into a virtually unrestricted fund.
  • A partial veto altered uniform vehicle registration fees for trucks.
  • A partial veto expanded the definition of “vapor products” and may have altered tax and regulatory authority.

Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the governor may veto appropriation bills in whole or “in part.” WILL’s original action argued that Governor Evers’ vetoes, in effect, created new laws never voted on by the state legislature.

WILL filed an original action to the Wisconsin Supreme Court on July 31, 2019 asking the Court to review Governor Evers’ partial vetoes. The Supreme Court agreed to take the original action on October 17, 2019.

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