Steven Walters
The State of Politics

Governor’s Veto Power Looms Large

What Legislature gives, veto can take away. The battle has begun.

By - Mar 4th, 2019 11:06 am
Tony Evers. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Tony Evers. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

The two-year state budget that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers just gave Republicans who control the Legislature begins what is likely to be four months — or more — of conflict between two branches of government given separate powers by the state Constitution.

That Constitution requires that the Legislature draft its own two-year budget, which must then be forwarded to the governor. But the same Constitution gives the governor — head of the executive branch of state government — broad authority to veto the Legislature’s budget. The governor can even cross out spending for specific programs approved by the Legislature and lower those amounts with “write down” vetoes.

Wisconsin’s governor has “the single most powerful line-item veto in the country,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos noted at a recent Wispolitics luncheon.

Another first-term governor, Republican Tommy G. Thompson, rewrote the first budget sent him by Democratic legislators 290 times with vetoes in 1987.

Evers and Republican legislators have major differences — over expanding Medicaid with federal cash, how to pay for an income tax cut, limiting the capital gains tax deduction claimed by wealthy taxpayers, raising the gas tax, and decriminalizing possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana — so get ready for months of Capitol drama.

At that same luncheon, Vos was asked to describe his working relationship with the new Democratic governor. “Non-existent …underwhelming…
disappointing,” Vos said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald was also critical of the Evers budget. Evers wants to “raise the tax burden on our state’s job creators, potentially increase the cost of private health insurance, and harm the voucher program that promotes student success regardless of zip code – all items he knows Republicans do not favor,” Fitzgerald said.

For his part, Evers continued to hold out hope that he and Republicans can negotiate compromises on major issues. The next state budget cycle begins July 1, although spending continues at the current rate if both sides can’t agree on a budget by then.

“Our budget is about putting people first,” Evers said. “This isn’t a Tony Evers budget, the Democratic budget, the Speaker’s budget, or the Republican budget. This is The People’s Budget.”

Evers added: “The people of Wisconsin didn’t choose for us to be divided. They chose for us to find it within ourselves to be united — not in party, but in promise — to serve our state, and to do what’s best for the people who sent us here.”

Now that Evers has formally introduced his budget, Republicans get the first chance to reshape it. Soon, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) will give the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee — Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren — a list of all non-spending items in Evers budget. Republicans have 12 of the 16 seats on the Finance Committee.

Vos, Fitzgerald, Darling and Nygren will then decide which “policy” – and not spending – items to prune from the budget before JFC starts voting on it in May. Between now and then, the Fiscal Bureau will formally summarize the governor’s budget and statewide public hearings will be held.

Vos, a former JFC cochairman, has already said the governor’s plan to decriminalize possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana should come out of the budget. “That should never have been in the budget in the first place,” Vos told the Wispolitics luncheon.

Vos said he and Evers agree that it’s time to legalize medical marijuana, but linking that change to decriminalizing possession of less than 25 grams was a budget-bill “poison pill” Republicans will never swallow.

Republicans could even scrap the entire Evers budget and build their own, working off current spending signed into law by former GOP Gov. Scott Walker.

Republican Sen. Steve Nass, one of several Senate  conservatives, called the Democrat’s budget the most “extreme” he has seen in 28 years in the Legislature. It’s a “People’s Republic of Madison budget,” Nass said, citing such items as decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, allowing undocumenteds from other countries to pay resident UW tuition and get Wisconsin driver’s licenses, and restoring funding to Planned Parenthood, which performs abortions.

But Evers, who already vetoed an income tax cut passed by Republicans, gets the final say with his veto power. Evers could veto an entirely Republican-crafted budget, forcing the power struggle to start anew.

And, for the record, the Legislature has not overridden a governor’s veto since 1985.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

One thought on “The State of Politics: Governor’s Veto Power Looms Large”

  1. mkwagner says:

    Wisconsin Republicans established immediately after the election that they have no intention of working with Gov. Evers. Is it any wonder the relationship is non-existent. Who, Speaker Vos is responsible for that relationship? How did you think your efforts to take over the executive branch was going to be perceived by the incoming Evers administration? As my mother use to say, “You broke it, you fix it.”

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