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GOP Considers Splitting Budget Into Two Bills

By John Forester | May 21, 2019

From WisPolitics.com …

GOP legislative leaders are considering splitting the budget into two bills — one that would outline spending and the other containing policy — in an attempt to get around the guv’s partial veto authority.

Gov. Tony Evers has the most powerful partial veto authority in the country, but can only use it on legislation that includes appropriations. Splitting the budget into two bills would mean Evers couldn’t rework policy Republicans want to include as part of the plan and would be forced to either sign the full bill or veto it.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told WisPolitics.com he likes the idea of splitting the budget into two bills, but was still studying any possible downsides and said no final decision has been made about whether to send one bill or two to Evers.

He said the possible approach was born out of frustration among GOP lawmakers that Evers doesn’t want to “negotiate or talk about any of the topics in his budget.”

“If we can’t negotiate, this is at least something we should consider,” Vos said.

An Evers spokeswoman said it was the first the guv’s office has heard of Republicans considering the option and didn’t have an immediate comment. But Dem Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a member of the Finance Committee, said Republicans seemed to be “begging” Evers to veto the budget.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Vos spoke with WisPolitics.com about the possible two-bill approach during the GOP state convention in Oshkosh this weekend. Fitzgerald said he has discussed the option with his caucus, but referred other questions to Vos.

It would likely be a first since the state moved to an executive budget in 1931. Prior to that, individual bills were introduced for each agency. In the 88 years since, every budget has been signed into law as one act, according to a history from the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Still, Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1987 proposed separate budget bills for revenue, transportation, natural resources and the capital budget and in 1989 had separate proposals for natural resources and transportation. In both cases, the Joint Finance Committee combined them into one bill, according to LRB. In 1995, Thompson submitted a separate transportation bill, and that was signed into law outside the executive budget.

Vos pointed out Republicans split Act 10 into two bills in 2011 with Senate Dems leaving the state and denying the chamber the quorum needed to take up fiscal legislation. With Dems still largely out of the state, Republicans pushed through the Senate the policy provisions.

Wisconsin guvs have the ability to veto language and dollar amounts in bills that include an appropriation. But Evers can’t create new words by striking an individual letter and can’t combine parts of two or more sentences to create a new once.

Insiders have been watching to see how Evers might use his partial veto authority on the budget Republicans send to him. The going belief has been that if Evers wasn’t able to reshape the document to his liking with his partial veto authority, he would consider nixing the entire document. A full veto would be a first since the switch to executive budgets in 1931.

Vos said he has spoken with the Fiscal and Reference bureaus on how the two-bill approach might work. He said a decision on whether to do the budget in one bill or two wouldn’t need to be made until just before the floor votes in both houses.

Erpenbach, D-Middleton, called the scenario frustrating and called on GOP leaders to sit down with Evers.

“It’s like they’re doing everything they can to not sit down with him, not work with him, not take any of his suggestions with any seriousness at all,” he said.

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