FILE - Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) filed a petition with the Wisconsin Supreme Court asking it to review the practice of partial vetoes.

The nonprofit advocacy organization claims that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers improperly and unlawfully used his partial veto powers on various provisions of the Wisconsin state budget, effectively creating new laws never voted on by the Legislature.

Evers said the budget he signed, including 78 partial vetoes, was “a down payment on the progress we must make in the next biennial budget." Vetoing it in full “would have meant passing up the opportunity to provide investments” in a range of programs, he said.

The Department of Public Instruction released a statement that Evers partially vetoing measures was designed “to increase the resources available to school districts.”

No Democrat voted for the budget approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Republicans did not have the constitutionally required two-thirds majority in both houses to override any partial veto.

But the partial vetoes “created new laws never approved by the legislature and thereby upset the Wisconsin Constitution’s ‘carefully balanced separation of powers between the executive and the legislative branches,’” WILL argues in a motion filed with the court.

WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg told The Center Square, “The governor’s veto power has been used creatively, and sometimes absurdly, by governors of both parties. But the partial veto cannot act as a magic wand, creating new laws out of whole cloth. Governor Evers’ partial vetoes go beyond the acceptable scope of this power, and WILL is asking the Court to review and rein in the partial veto power to safeguard liberty and defend the Constitution.”

The declaratory judgment and request for injunction was filed on behalf of three Wisconsin taxpayers from Verona, Hobart, and De Pere.

Under the Wisconsin Constitution, the governor may veto appropriation bills in whole or “in part.” But Evers’ partial vetoes of some measures changed several policies already enacted by the Legislature or created new ones the Legislature never approved.

For example, WILL notes, a partial veto transformed money allocated by the Legislature for a grant program to replace school buses into nearly $10 million in funding for electric vehicle charging stations, not allocated or approved by the Legislature.

Other examples include partially vetoing measures that removed the conditions for local governments to access $75 million to improve local roads, unilaterally deciding that owners of heavier trucks should have to pay more in annual registration fees than owners of lighter trucks, expanding the definition of “vapor products,” and redefining products subject to new taxes and regulation, WILL argues.

The partial veto was created in Wisconsin in 1930 to prevent the Legislature from inserting multiple proposals into one appropriations bill, forcing the governor to approve or disapprove the entire bill. The court held in 1935 that a governor’s partial approval gave him “the right to pass independently on every separable piece of legislation in an appropriation bill.”

Since 1935, 25 constitutional amendments have been proposed by the Legislature with the intent of limiting the governor’s power.

“The technique challenged here is the governor’s ability to remove essential conditions from legislation that he otherwise approves and thereby create a new – and different – law enacting a policy that the legislature did not choose,” another motion WILL filed with the court states. “Nothing in the language or history of Art. V, § 10 comes close to sanctioning such a bizarre state of affairs.”

WILL is also requesting the Supreme Court, with a 5-2 conservative majority, to overturn a 1978 ruling that found a governor can enact new policy through the partial veto power.

Former Republican Gov. Scott Walker issued 98 partial vetoes in his 2017 budget and 104 in his 2016 budget. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson issued 457 partial vetoes in 1991.