attorney Rick Esenberg details a new lawsuit asking
the Wisconsin Supreme Court to overturn four partial
vetoes made by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and limit
the ability of future governors to make similar
vetoes during a news conference at the Statehouse in
Madison, Wis., Wednesday, July 31, 2019. If
successful, the move would reverse more than four
decades of precedent.
MADISON — A conservative
law firm on Wednesday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to
dramatically scale back the ability of governors to change
the intent of lawmakers through partial budget vetoes —
a move that would reverse more than four decades of
The lawsuit, filed on
behalf of three taxpayers by the Wisconsin Institute for
Law and Liberty, is the most aggressive challenge yet to
partial vetoes that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers made to the
state budget approved by the Republican-controlled
Legislature in June.
A favorable ruling would
have an impact far beyond the current budget and governor,
limiting partial vetoes into the future.
"The governor's veto
power has been used creatively, and sometimes absurdly, by
governors of both parties," said Rick Esenberg, the
president of WILL. "But the partial veto cannot act
as a magic wand, creating new laws out of whole
Esenberg said that while
Republican governors have done the same thing with partial
vetoes, this lawsuit does not target Evers.
"The case is not about
politics, it's not about personalities," Esenberg
said. "It's about an important principle."
Evers shrugged off the
lawsuit as trying to re-fight old political battles.
"We had an election,
we had a budget, the budget was signed and deliberated by
Republicans and Democrats, so I'm ready to move on,"
Evers told reporters. "Apparently, they're not."
Republicans and their
allies like those bringing the lawsuit want to overturn
the results of the November election, said Analiese Eicher,
executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.
The lawsuit seeks to
overturn four of Evers' 78 partial vetoes, arguing that he
improperly and unlawfully used his broad constitutional
powers to create new laws never approved by the
Legislature. The lawsuit asks the Supreme Court,
controlled 5-2 by conservatives, to overturn a 1978 ruling
in a similar case that determined the governor could enact
new policy through his partial veto.
It is asking the state's
highest court to immediately take the case, speeding up a
decision by skipping the lower courts. Republicans who
control the Legislature could vote to override Evers'
vetoes, but they have not announced any plans to do so.
Any override would require Democratic support.
The governor's veto powers
are spelled out in the Wisconsin Constitution. The lawsuit
does not challenge those powers, but instead how Evers
used them, arguing that he violated the separation of
powers between the legislative and executive branches by
creating new laws never intended by the Legislature.
The lawsuit seeks to
overturn four of Evers' vetoes.
In one, Evers altered a
grant program for replacing aging school buses to instead
fund up to $10 million for electric vehicle charging
stations. In another, Evers allowed $75 million to be used
for any type of transportation program, rather than just
local roads as the Legislature wanted.
In a third, Evers
eliminated provisions that would have created a standard
$100 truck registration fee. In the fourth, Evers used his
veto in an attempt to ensure a tax on vaping products
would apply to any device containing fluid and to vapor
fluid sold separately.
In every instance, the
lawsuit alleges, Evers illegally expanded the scope of
what the Legislature intended.
Wisconsin governors, both
Republican and Democratic, have long used the broad
partial veto power to reshape the state budget. Former
Republican Gov. Scott Walker issued 98 partial vetoes in
his last budget in 2017 and 104 in the one before that.
Former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson holds the record
with 457 partial vetoes in 1991.
Lawmakers and voters have
been attempting to scale back the governor's veto power
almost since it was created in 1930. Since 1935, there
have been 25 constitutional amendments proposed to limit
the governor's power.
In 1990, voters approved an
amendment to disallow creating new words in a budget bill
by striking out individual letters. In 2008, voters ended
what was known as the Frankenstein veto by prohibiting the
governor from creating a new sentence by combining parts
of two or more sentences.
An amendment proposed this
year by Republicans following Evers' vetoes would prohibit
governors from increasing funding through a partial veto.