Wisconsin GOP wants to rewrite constitution to strip Democratic governor's veto powers

Republican lawmakers are still trying to undercut Gov. Tony Evers, who used veto power to boost school spending

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published July 12, 2019 5:40PM (EDT)

Tony Evers (AP/Morry Gash)
Tony Evers (AP/Morry Gash)

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers want to rewrite the state’s constitution to limit Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ veto powers after he used his veto pen to increase school funding.

Wisconsin Republicans voted to approve numerous new gubernatorial powers when Republican Gov. Scott Walker was in office but immediately moved to roll those back in a lame-duck session after Evers defeated Walker last year, along with limiting some longstanding gubernatorial authority. After Evers issued 78 partial vetoes of a Republican-authored budget last week, Republicans are now trying to limit the veto powers governors have held for years, the Associated Press reports.

Republican state Sen. David Craig and state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would limit the governor’s veto powers to increase funding levels in state budgets passed by the legislature.

The move comes after the lawmakers accused Evers of a “power grab” because he used his veto power over the state budget to steer $65 million more toward schools, stop plans for a new prison, restore funding to Milwaukee’s child welfare system, and roll back work and drug testing requirements for the state’s food assistance program, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"This unilateral abuse of power taken by the executive branch cannot go unchecked by the Legislature without seriously damaging the separation of powers doctrine in Wisconsin," Craig and Kuglitsch wrote in a memo to colleagues. 

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said that Republicans were just “sore losers” who want to “change the rules every time they don’t get their way.”

"Republicans in the Legislature chose to ignore the will of the people, but Gov. Evers listened to the people who overwhelmingly said they wanted to see more investments in our public schools,” she told Wisconsin Public Radio. “To be clear, this is a temper tantrum in response to Gov. Evers using his authority to align the budget more closely with the will of the people and put more money into our kids’ schools."

Evers’ vetoes came after Republican lawmakers rejected his budget proposals, including a $1 billion expansion of Medicaid, a $1.4 billion increase in school funding and the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Wisconsin governors of both parties have had strong veto powers for years. The state’s governors have the authority to remove any part of the state budget. Walker issued 99 partial vetoes of the last state budget during his tenure and former Gov. Tommy Thompson, also a Republican, was such a fan of the veto power that he struck individual letters from budgets to structure the language into entirely different words than the legislature intended, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling said the attempt to roll back Evers’ veto powers are part of the Republican Party’s goals that they made clear when they rolled back much of his authority before he even took office.

"Republicans are still in election denial and continue to look for ways to undermine our democratically elected governor every step of the way," Shilling told the Journal Sentinel.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, a Democrat, called the Republicans’ proposal an “attack on the institution of democracy.”

"The public should be outraged at the repeated attempts to change the powers of the office because they disagree with how those powers were used," he said.

In order for a constitutional amendment to be enacted, it must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be approved by a statewide voter referendum. 

Before Evers took office, Republicans used a lame-duck session to jam through dozens of Walker’s nominees and pass bills limiting the incoming governor's authority and even barring him from pulling out of a multi-state lawsuit seeking to undo Obamacare. Evers was still able to withdraw Wisconsin from the suit after a judge temporarily blocked the laws earlier this year.

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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