Veto Limbo: How Governor Evers could Change the Next State Budget

Gov. Tony Evers is expected to take action on the state budget this week, but how he may use his powerful veto pen to change the two-year spending plan remains unclear.

According to the governor’s office, Evers, a Democrat, officially received the state budget from the GOP-controlled Legislature on Friday. Under state law, he has six days, excluding Sunday, from receiving the budget to act on it. His actions could range from signing the plan with no changes — something Republicans have called for — to vetoing the entire budget, or using his veto pen to make changes, a process known as a partial veto.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, the governor said he wouldn’t comment on his plans, but noted “there’s a large amount of money in the budget for tax cuts,” adding that his veto pen could “balance that out.” He also called the budget’s funding for K-12 schools “inadequate.”

“We’re going to be spending just about every waking moment over the next couple days figuring out what our position will be on that,” he said of the budget signing. “So, stay tuned.”

Governor Evers has one of the powerful veto pens in the country, with the ability to delete words, numbers and punctuation from the budget. According to a 2020 memo from the Legislature’s nonpartisan research office, most other governors are limited to eliminating or reducing spending amounts in budget bills. In contrast, the Wisconsin governor can make changes to any part of the budget, including policy language.

According to Republican leaders, the 2021-2023 budget was strategically written to limit Evers from making any big policy changes with his veto pen.

Speaking with reporters last week, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said the GOP majority worked to create a budget that would give Evers little to work with.

“The intent of the finance committee was to produce a budget that had very few new policies, new programs, very few words involved,” LeMahieu said.