While Republicans in the state legislature debate behind the scenes whether to try to override some of Governor Tony Evers’ partial vetoes of the state budget, a conservative legal organization is attempting a different tactic to limit the changes made by the governor.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review whether four of Evers’ vetoes were constitutional. According to WILL, the vetoes go beyond the powers reserved for the executive branch when they actually changed public policy and the intent of the appropriations by the Republican-controlled legislature.

“The governor’s veto power has been used creatively, and sometimes absurdly, by governors of both parties,” said Rick Esenberg, the President and General Counsel for WILL, in a statement on Wednesday. “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 four vetoes in question are:

  • 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.

The vetoes questioned in the lawsuit do not include Evers’ veto that led to an additional increase in school funding of over $84 million. That veto prompted state Sen. Dave Craig (R-Vernon) and state Rep. Mike Kuglitsch (R-New Berlin) to propose an amendment to the state constitution to prevent similar vetoes that increase spending.

However, Esenberg explained at a press conference on Wednesday that there are concerns about the amount of power being accumulated in the executive branch if the four vetoes listed above went unchallenged.

“What’s happened in the partial veto is the governor has not simply approved or disapproved what has been passed by the legislature,” Esenberg said. “But, over the years, various governors have taken it upon themselves to transform the law.”

Esenberg compared Evers’ use of the veto to past governors whose use of the veto power prompted action to limit the governor’s veto power.

“Here we have what I might call a ‘magician’s veto,” Esenberg said. “In which appropriation items that have been passed by the legislature had been transformed magically into something else through the clever use of a veto pen.”

Esenberg said if Evers’ vetoes were not challenged, the state budget would become a “competing game of Scrabble.” He added that it was a fundamental principle that the issue also goes to the separation of powers, “that guarantor of liberty.”

WILL is taking the case directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because it is up to that Court to determine if the laws are permissible according to the state constitution due to the Court’s role in re-examining its precedents. WILL is also concerned that the laws will be implemented before the Supreme Court has the opportunity of review.

RightWisconsin has an interview below with Anthony Lococo, Deputy Counsel for WILL, in a return of the RightWisconsin conversation series.