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Court rules for executive branch

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(The Center Square) – Gubernatorial power was intruded upon by the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin Legislature, the state Supreme Court said Friday.

With lone dissent from Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, the 6-1 ruling said the executive branch has authority to spend for projects the Legislature has appropriated funds. At issue was the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program in an appropriation to the Department of Natural Resources.

The Joint Finance Committee requires the Department of Natural Resources to notify the Legislature anytime it planned to spend more than $250,000 as part of the program. The committee’s policy allows members to anonymously object to conservation projects. Those objections would essentially kill the project.

Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote for the majority, “While the constitution gives the Legislature the power to appropriate funds, the power to spend the funds the Legislature has appropriated for a specific project belongs to the executive branch. This is true even though the Legislature created the DNR. While the Legislature has the power to create an agency, define its powers, and appropriate funds to fulfill the purpose for which the legislature established it, the power to spend appropriated funds in accordance with the law enacted by the Legislature lies solely within the core power of the executive to ensure the laws are faithfully executed.”

Ziegler noted the politics behind the decision to take the case.

“Selecting an issue that only impacts the Republican-controlled Legislature and the longstanding Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program should raise eyebrows,” she wrote. “Determining all issues at the same time could serve to hold my colleagues to application of the same principles in the same way, even when it comes to a Democratic-controlled branch of government. Unfortunately, we will wait to see if that consistency will be forthcoming, as the majority handpicked and now limits only the legislative branch’s longstanding, statutorily authorized practice.”

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