Budget Bill The Shortest in Decades
Republicans worked for “veto-proof” bill so Gov. Evers has little room to reshape legislation.
Everyone knows you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but there’s a chance you could learn something by counting the pages in a state budget.
It’s not that the length of a budget says anything about whether it’s good or bad. Short budgets can spend lots of money. Long budgets can be frugal. A single sentence or dollar figure can go a long way toward setting public policy.
But fewer pages means fewer words. And fewer words means fewer chances for a Wisconsin governor like Tony Evers to reshape the budget once the Legislature sends it to his desk.
“In the case of this budget, it seems to me that if you have a short bill, then to a certain extent you’re giving the governor fewer opportunities for line-item vetoes,” said Mordecai Lee, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor, a former state senator and a longtime observer of Wisconsin’s budget process.
“I think we’re seeing a real behind-the-scenes strategy here by the legislative leaders knowing that they’re going to face the opportunity for a governor to reshape a budget,” Lee said. “They’re giving him as few opportunities as possible to be able to do that.”
The Wisconsin budget bill Republican lawmakers passed this week is shortest in decades, and it’s not even close.
When it passed the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, the bill was 511 pages. The budget bill introduced by Evers in February was 1,148 pages.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester called attention to the difference during a press conference before the budget vote. Next to Vos were paper copies of the governor’s budget bill the Republican alternative.
“When Gov. Evers introduced his request in February, the document was a massive liberal wishlist, more than 1,100 pages filled with policy to appease Democrats and their special interest allies,” Vos said. “For those of you who are keeping count, we cut the number from the original document by more than half.”
That’s not to say Republicans are averse to longer budgets. They’ve written several.
In fact, every budget bill passed out of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee over the past two decades has been more than 1,000 pages.
That includes the four budgets GOP lawmakers passed when Republican Scott Walker was governor. Those budget bills averaged about 1,400 pages, or about 250 pages longer than the budget Evers introduced.
“The length of a law, the length of a bill is really irrelevant to if it’s good or bad or important or unimportant,” said Lee.
But Lee said it could matter when it comes to Evers’ ability to use his partial veto power.
“That reduces the opportunities for a governor to line-item veto some changes he doesn’t like because it’s not presented,” Lee said. “It’s not in the bill.”
In a report issued earlier this year, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau called the Wisconsin governor’s partial veto power “unique across all states.”
“Most state constitutions grant the governor ‘item veto’ power over appropriation bills, allowing the governor to strike or reduce appropriations,” read the report. “But the partial veto power allows the governor to strike words, numbers, and punctuation in both appropriation and non-appropriation text, thus giving the governor a role in the lawmaking process in a far more substantial way than simply having veto power over an entire bill.”
Republicans are well-aware of those powers. Vos said Tuesday that they tried to make the budget as “veto-proof” as possible.
For example, they made several, subtle tweaks to the language of the budget with the governor’s veto powers in mind.
Democratic lawmakers called attention to the changes, with Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit calling the amendments “petty obstructionism.”
“(Republicans) discovered that maybe they just left a tiny little bit of wiggle room for the governor to use his constitutional powers to improve this budget,” Spreitzer said. “And wouldn’t you know it they want to take away any power they can for the governor to improve this budget.”
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, disputed that characterization.
“This amendment simply seeks to clarify the Legislature’s position to ensure that the governor cannot use his veto authority to subvert the will of the body,” Steineke said. “Period.”
Lee said it’s important to note that while Evers’ budget power is still broad, there are limits to what he can do to a budget.
“We have to remember that a line-item veto can only reduce a number,” Lee said. ” You can’t increase a number.”
So, for example, when it comes to education funding, Republicans passed a $500 million increase for K-12 schools. That’s about $900 million less than Evers wanted, but he can’t use his veto pen to put the money back.
Lee said Evers could veto the entire budget if he wants to restart negotiations and push for a better compromise, but such a move would be unprecedented in Wisconsin.
The Legislative Reference Bureau says no Wisconsin governor has ever vetoed an entire budget outright since the state moved to a biennial executive budget in 1931.
Evers’ office didn’t respond to a question about whether the length of the budget would restrict his partial veto options, and whether that concerned him.
The governor has consistently kept his options open when it comes to vetoes, saying he needs to consider the budget in its totality before making final decisions.
Evers tweeted Thursday that he had called on the Legislature to send him the budget bill, a procedural step that begins a countdown for the governor. Once the bill is sent to his desk, Evers has six days, not counting Sundays, to act on it.
If he uses his partial veto powers, 500 pages will give him plenty of room to make changes — just not as much room as his predecessors.
Listen to the WPR report here.
Budget Bill Before Evers Is Shortest In Decades was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.
More about the 2019-2021 Wisconsin Budget
- State Budget Fell Short on Highways? - Laurel White - Jul 8th, 2019
- Rep. LaKeshia Myers Supports Governor Evers’ Partial Vetoes - State Rep. LaKeshia Myers - Jul 3rd, 2019
- Statement: Wisconsin’s biennial budget will speed up transition to electric vehicles and improve public transit - WISPIRG Foundation - Jul 3rd, 2019
- Majority Leader Fitzgerald Reacts to Governor Evers Signing the Wisconsin Budget - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Jul 3rd, 2019
- Evers Uses 78 Partial Vetoes on Budget - Laurel White - Jul 3rd, 2019
- Rep. Bowen Statement on Gov. Evers’ Signing of Biennial Budget - State Rep. David Bowen - Jul 3rd, 2019
- Promises Made, Promises Kept: Gov. Evers Signs Wisconsin’s 2019-21 Biennial Budget into Law - Gov. Tony Evers - Jul 3rd, 2019
- Budget Bill The Shortest in Decades - Shawn Johnson - Jun 30th, 2019
- Op Ed: Budget Should Plan For the Future - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Jun 29th, 2019
- Majority Leader Fitzgerald Statement on the Passage of the Wisconsin Budget - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Jun 26th, 2019
- Statement from Rep. Brostoff on Passage of Republican Budget - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Jun 26th, 2019
- Rep. Bowen Statement on Passage of Watered-Down Republican Budget - State Rep. David Bowen - Jun 26th, 2019
- Republican Budget is Replete with Countless Missed Opportunities - State Rep. LaKeshia Myers - Jun 25th, 2019
- Budget Committee Debates Stewardship Program - Danielle Kaeding - May 28th, 2019
- Republicans Refuse to Allow Votes on Budget Proposals to Help People Vote - One Wisconsin Now - May 14th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Responds to GOP Rejection of Medicaid Expansion - State Rep. Robyn Vining - May 9th, 2019
- Gov. Evers’ Statement on Joint Finance Committee Action - Gov. Tony Evers - May 9th, 2019
- Leader Fitzgerald Applauds Joint Finance Committee Eliminating Over $1 Billion in Gov. Evers’ Tax Hikes - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - May 9th, 2019
- Scores of People Attend State Budget Hearing - Bridgit Bowden - Apr 6th, 2019
- Legislators Resist Many Evers Proposals - Laurel White - Apr 5th, 2019
- Republicans Call for Reset of Evers’ Budget - Shawn Johnson and Laurel White - Apr 4th, 2019
- Evers Budgets $78 Million for High Speed Internet - Danielle Kaeding - Mar 14th, 2019
- Evers Wants $2.5 Billion Capital Budget - Shawn Johnson - Mar 11th, 2019
- The Medical College of Wisconsin Applauds Governor Evers Commitment to Cancer Research - Medical College of Wisconsin - Mar 8th, 2019
- Evers Budget Overlooks Convention Center - Corri Hess - Mar 8th, 2019
- School Leaders Back Evers Funding Plan - John Davis - Mar 7th, 2019
- WILL Budget Explainer: The Administrative State - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Mar 7th, 2019
- Governor Evers Makes Historic Investments in Health Care Coverage and Access - Wisconsin Department of Health Services - Mar 6th, 2019
- Evers’ Budget Allows Immigrants In-State Tuition - Phoebe Petrovic - Mar 6th, 2019
- Murphy’s Law: Who Will Win State Budget Battle? - Bruce Murphy - Mar 5th, 2019
- The State of Politics: Governor’s Veto Power Looms Large - Steven Walters - Mar 4th, 2019
- Rural and Urban School Districts Express Support for Governor Evers’ Budget - Milwaukee Public Schools - Mar 1st, 2019
- Governor Evers Budget Prioritizes Real People Living Real Lives - Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health - Mar 1st, 2019
- Coalition for More Responsible Transportation Members Applaud Gov. Evers’ Proposed Transportation Budget - Coalition for More Responsible Transportation - Mar 1st, 2019
- Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald Responds to Governor Evers’ Budget Address - Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald - Feb 28th, 2019
- Rep. Considine Statement on Governor’s Budget - State Rep. Dave Considine - Feb 28th, 2019
- Senator Craig Responds to Governor Evers’ Budget Address - State Sen. David Craig - Feb 28th, 2019
- Rep. Shankland Commends Governor Evers on The People’s Budget - State Rep. Katrina Shankland - Feb 28th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Cheers The People’s Budget - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 28th, 2019
- Milwaukee Area Labor Council Reaction State Budget - Milwaukee Area Labor Council - Feb 28th, 2019
- Statement from Rep. Brostoff in Support of Gov. Evers’ Redistricting Plan - State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff - Feb 28th, 2019
- The People’s Budget is a Win for Wisconsin - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Feb 28th, 2019
- Rep. Mark Spreitzer Applauds Gov. Evers’s Budget Address - State Rep. Mark Spreitzer - Feb 28th, 2019
- Gov. Tony Evers’ Budget Plan: Progress on Solutions for Student Loan Borrowers and Protections for Wisconsin Voter Rights - One Wisconsin Now - Feb 28th, 2019
- Governor Evers Gives 2019-21 Biennial Budget Address - Gov. Tony Evers - Feb 28th, 2019
- MacIver Responds To Reporters Being Barred From Evers Budget Briefing - MacIver Institute - Feb 28th, 2019
- AFP-WI: Evers Education Budget Doesn’t Prioritize Student Success - AFP Wisconsin - Feb 28th, 2019
- Evers’ Budget Will Include Nonpartisan Redistricting Process - Shawn Johnson - Feb 27th, 2019
- Representative Subeck Applauds Governor Evers’ Plan to Ensure Fair Election Maps - State Rep. Lisa Subeck - Feb 26th, 2019
- Rep. Robyn Vining Embraces Gov. Evers’ Inclusion of Redistricting in Budget - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Feb 26th, 2019
- Gov. Evers Announces Tribal Initiatives in State Budget - Gov. Tony Evers - Feb 26th, 2019
- Governor Evers’ Budget Targets School Choice: What You Need to Know - Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty - Feb 25th, 2019
- The State of Politics: 10 Issues to Watch in Evers Budget - Steven Walters - Feb 25th, 2019
- Evers Signals Gas Tax In His Budget - Danielle Kaeding - Feb 13th, 2019
- Evers Budget Will ‘Put Kids First’ - Shawn Johnson - Jan 30th, 2019
- Evers Wants Voucher Costs on Tax Bills - Shawn Johnson - Jan 3rd, 2019