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Evers education veto changes leave budget watchdogs in shock

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(The Center Square) – Republican lawmakers and budget hawks in Wisconsin continue to be amazed by Gov. Tony Evers changes to school funding in the state.

Evers on Wednesday changed a few numbers and erased a hyphen to turn a $325 per-student, per-year school funding increase for the next two years into a $325 per-student increase for the next 400 years.

Evers said the move will “provide school districts with predictable long-term increases for the foreseeable future.”

Will Flanders, an education policy expert at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, told The Center Square the governor went beyond providing long-term funding and ignored all previous precedent in the process.

“Gov. Evers used an extremely disingenuous veto to take what are already substantial spending increases over the next two years, and instead tie the hands of the legislature for generations to come,” Flanders explained. “Under this veto, either property taxpayers or state taxpayers will be on the hook for billions of dollars in new K12 spending.”

Wisconsin’s governors have tremendously broad line-item or partial veto powers, which Republicans governors have used them in the past.

But Rick Esenberg, president at WILL, said Evers’ education veto change may be too broad.

“I think what the Governor did [Wednesday] is inconsistent with the opinion of four justices in Bartlett v. Evers. Just as importantly, it’s acting in bad faith,” Esenberg said on Twitter. “No one thinks a law should set revenue limits for 402 years. He did this for a small advantage. He should be ashamed.”

Bartlett v Evers is a 2020 ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court that struck down some of Evers 2019 budget vetoes. Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote in that decision that while the governor has broad veto powers he cannot create new laws on his own.

“What the governor may not do is selectively edit parts of a bill to create a new policy that was not proposed by the legislature,” Hagedorn said.

Democrat state Rep. Deb Andraca, D-Whitefish Bay, on Wednesday defended the governor’s education changes.

“Maybe if legislative Republicans would stop completely ignoring the Governor’s budgets we would not have to rely on a hyphen to enact the will of the people,” Andraca said on Twitter.

Esenberg fired back.

“This is just silly. The voters also elected a GOP Assembly and Senate (and would have under any possible maps). The governor no more reflects their ‘will’ than legislators – even Rep. Andraca,” Esenberg explained. “He did a crazy and stupid thing to get what he wanted.”

It’s likely, but it’s not clear, if anyone will challenge the governor’s veto in the courts.

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