GOP lawmakers propose limiting governor’s veto power

By: - February 1, 2024 1:40 pm

Gov. Tony Evers signed the 2023-25 budget bill with 51 partial vetoes on July 5, 2023. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

Republican lawmakers are seeking to limit Wisconsin governor’s unique line-item veto power, a proposal that comes in reaction to Gov. Tony Evers’ veto last year that extended school funding increases for 400 years.

The constitutional amendment proposal — coauthored by Reps. Amanda Nedweski (R-Pleasant Prairie), Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), Shae Sortwell (R-Two Rivers) and Sen. Dan Knodl (R-Germantown) — would bar the governor “from creating or increasing or authorizing the creation or increase of any tax or fee” when exercising the veto power. 

“We narrowly crafted this legislation to address the specific situations that we believe members of the public would find the most egregious: the ability for a single person to create or raise taxes and fees on our citizens with a single stroke of a pen,” the lawmakers stated in a memo about the bill.

Republican lawmakers are looking to limit the power due to one of Evers’ vetoes on the state budget passed last year. He crossed out certain digits in the bill to extend annual increases in per-pupil revenue limits — the maximum amount of revenue schools may raise through state general aid and property taxes — through the year 2425. 

The partial veto power of Wisconsin’s executive is one of the most powerful in the country. Created in 1930, the governor has the power to veto appropriation bills “in whole or in part” before signing, including by reducing appropriations and writing in smaller amounts, striking lines of text to restore current law and striking individual digits within a bill. 

The line-item veto power has been curtailed on several occasions. The Legislature has passed amendments, including one in 2008 that eliminated the ability for governors to create new sentences by combining parts of two or more sentences — also known as the “Frankenstein veto” — and one in 1990 that barred governor’s from eliminating single letters within words, known as the “Vanna White veto.” The power was further restrained by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court’s 2020 Bartlett v. Evers decision that ruled three of Evers’ partial vetoes unconstitutional, however there still isn’t a consensus about the extent of the power.

In their memo explaining the current proposal, the coauthors said the new amendment would “appropriately rebalance power” between lawmakers and the governor — stopping the latter from “completely rewriting laws that are not representative of the people.” 

“The governor is not a legislator,” the coauthors stated. 

Republicans have recently relied on constitutional amendments as a way of advancing their priorities under split government, since the amendment process doesn’t require a signature from the governor. In order to become law, the proposal would need to instead pass the Legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters in a referendum.


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.