(The Center Square) – A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court is offering another lesson in the separation and sharing of powers at the State Capitol.
The high court on Friday struck down three of Gov. Tony Evers’ four partial budget vetoes from last year.
The justices could not agree on a single reason why the vetoes that dealt with spending school bus money on electric charging stations, shifting $75 million in road money, and creating new taxes and regulations on vaping were unconstitutional. Instead, different judges offered different explanations. The court allowed the governor’s veto of a law that ended with truck drivers paying higher registration fees to stay intact.
The central question in the case is just how powerful Wisconsin’s partial veto is.
Justice Brian Hagedorn, a conservative who ruled against three vetoes, said the governor’s veto authority is one of the most powerful in the country. But it is not absolute.
“While the governor’s partial veto power is incredibly broad, it should not be read to fundamentally upend the overall structure of our government embedded in our constitution,” Hagedorn wrote. “The constitution’s placement of law-creation in the hands of the legislature means we cannot permit a practice that turns the governor into a one-person legislature.”
Hagedorn ruled against the governor’s veto of the school bus money, the transportation money, and the vaping law. He ruled for the governor’s truck fee veto.
Justice Patience Drake Roggensack said the governor’s veto power is limited in scope, both in that any veto must leave a workable law behind, leave behind a law that deals with the topic of the legislation that the governor changed.
She wrote in Friday’s ruling that two of the governor’s vetoes failed that test.
“Governor Evers could not use his partial veto power to alter the school bus modernization fund into an alternative fuel fund. Nor could he use it to alter the local road improvement fund into a fund for local grants or local supplements, devoid of any requirement that it be used for local roads. These two series of vetoes are invalid,” Roggensack wrote. “However, Governor Evers lawfully used his partial veto power to alter the amount truck owners must pay to register their vehicles. He also lawfully exercised his partial veto power in regard to vaping products.”
A majority of justices disagreed with her on the vaping veto.
Liberal Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said the majority of the court missed the mark on all three vetoes that were struck down.
Bradley argued that voters have given the governor his veto power, and that the Supreme Court has upheld it over the years.
“I would instead turn to and uphold our well-established precedent. It recognizes, time and again, that the Wisconsin governor’s veto power is incredibly broad,” Walsh wrote. “Contrary to the determinations based on untested theories set forth in the various separate writings, I conclude that our precedent inexorably leads to the determination that all four vetoes at issue, including the Governor’s vetoes related to the school bus modernization fund, local road improvement fund, and vapor products tax are constitutionally permissible exercises of the partial veto power.”
Rick Esenberg with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which helped push the case to the Supreme Court, said the ruling is a victory for the people’s representatives and the rule of law.
“Governor Evers used the partial veto power to create new laws never approved by the legislature,” Esenberg said. “The Court’s decision recognizes limits to the partial veto power that will safeguard liberty and uphold the separation of powers.”
Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.