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Political Litigation

Wisconsin Businesses Sue State After Gov. Tony Evers Extends School Funding By 400 Years

— April 24, 2024

A coalition of Wisconsin businesses has filed a lawsuit challenging Gov. Tony Evers’ use of partial veto powers to extend incremental increases in school funding for more than 400 years.

According to The Associated Press, the complaint was filed on behalf of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center. The lawsuit names two plaintiffs, and centers on Evers’ decision to exercise partial veto powers when enacting education-related provisions of the state budget.

The budget, notes The Associated Press, detailed how much revenue the state’s public schools can raise per student.

In its original form, the budget determined that districts will be permitted to increase per-student revenue by $325 per year for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years. However, Gov. Evers selectively vetoed the dash between “2024-2025,” as well as the first “20” in “2024-25”—giving the increases an effective end date of 2425.

Although many states accord their governors the authority to veto individual items within legislation—termed a “line veto”—Wisconsin law permits its chief executive to strike everything from individual words and numbers to entire sentences.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers in 2018. Image via Wikimedia Commons via YouTube/user:Campaign of Tony Evers for governor
. (CCA-BY-3.0).

However, in 1990 and in 2008, voters approved two referendums prohibiting governors from using their line veto powers to either form new words or create new sentences. In 2020, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court cited these changes when overturning several of Evers’ partial vetoes—but failed to issue concise guidance on what the governor can and cannot do.

In its lawsuit, the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Litigation Center alleges that Evers’ partial veto on school funding constitutes a significant alteration of the state budget approved by legislator, and is therefore unlawful.

“The law is clear,” said WMCL Executive Director Nathan Kane. “Voters and their elected legislators are the ones empowered to increases [sic], no one else.”

Scott Rosenow, the center’s executive director, echoed this sentiment in his own statement.

“No Wisconsin governor has the authority to strike individual letters or digits to form a new word or number, except when reducing appropriations,” Rosenow said.

Evers’ office has, in the meantime, refused to offer any substantive comment on the lawsuit, saying only that “Republicans and their allies will stop at nothing to take away resources from our kids and our public schools.”

That statement, notes ABC News, did not even attempt to address whether Evers’ actions were unconstitutional.

The WMCL’s lawsuit asks the court to find Ever’ partial veto unlawful, and to declare that the state constitution prohibits governors from striking digits to create a new year or otherwise alter the term or duration of a provision authorized by Congress.


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