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Wisconsin Supreme Court declares governor’s partial budget vetoes unconstitutional
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Wisconsin Supreme Court declares governor’s partial budget vetoes unconstitutional

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that three of Governor Tony Evers’ vetoes to the state’s biennial budget violated the state constitution.

The Wisconsin Constitution provides that the governor may approve appropriation bills “in whole or in part.”

The justices were asked to determine whether four vetoes were valid. The vetoes pertained to the school bus modernization fund, the local roads improvement fund, the vapor products tax and the vehicle fee schedule.

While there was no unifying rationale for the justices’ decisions, a majority reached a conclusion that three of the four series of the vetoes were unconstitutional. Five justices concluded the school bus modernization fund and the local road improvement fund are unconstitutional. Four justices concluded that the vapor products tax is unconstitutional. Five justices determined that the vehicle fee schedule is constitutional.

The portions of the vetoes that were declared unconstitutional will be deemed in full force and effect as drafted by the legislature. The vehicle fee schedule veto, which was deemed constitutional, will remain in effect.

The tests for evaluating the validity of a veto ranged dramatically. Chief Justice Roggensack, finding two vetoes unconstitutional and two vetoes constitutional, said that the vetoes changed the topics from school bus modernization fund into an alternative fuel fund and a local road improvement fund into a fund for local grants or supplements without any requirement for funds to be used on roads. Justices Hagedorn and Ziegler found that the school bus modernization fund, the local roads improvement fund and the vapor products tax were unconstitutional but found that the vehicle fee schedule vetoes were constitutional because “they merely negated a policy proposal advanced by the legislature.”

Most telling though is the ideological split. One pair of justices led by Trump-supported Justice Kelly found that all the vetoes were unconstitutional because they “violate[d] the Wisconsin Constitution’s origination clause, amendment clause and legislative passage clause.” On the other side were the two liberal justices, Bradley and Dallet, who said all four of the vetoes were constitutional because they “resulted in objectively complete, entire, and workable laws.”

The Wisconsin governor’s partial veto power is still unsettled law, and it is likely that more cases will be coming before the state’s highest court in the years to come.