Budget Vetoes IV – Write Down Veto

Continuing with the series on the partial veto powers of the Governor of Wisconsin, this report focuses on the Write-Down Veto. The Write-Down Veto strikes the entirety of an appropriation amount, which the Governor can then replace with a lower number. This form of partial veto is comparable to the Digit Veto in that they both reduce appropriation amounts, albeit in different ways. The Digit Veto strikes individual digits from the bill, while the Write-Down Veto completely replaces an appropriation. Furthermore, the Write-Down Veto is limited to appropriations, unlike the Digit Veto.

The first use of the Write-Down Veto was in 1993, by Governor Tommy Thompson. In the report “The Governor’s Partial Veto”, the Legislative Reference Bureau described the partial veto as, “[Governor Thompson’s] most significant innovation in expanding the partial veto power…” Thompson’s first use of this partial veto was to reduce an intervenor financing fund to $250,000. This form of partial veto was challenged in court, but upheld in the Wisconsin Supreme Court case Citizens Utility Board v. Klauser, in which the court ruled that the Governor had the power to strike appropriations and replace them with lower numbers. 

Thompson used the Write-Down Veto again in 1997 to reduce a bonding authorization, resulting in another Wisconsin Supreme Court case. In response Senators Fred Risser, Brian Burke, and Representative David Travis sued the Governor in the case Risser v. Klauser. The legislators argued that Thompson’s use of the Write-Down Veto was unconstitutional, saying the Write-Down Veto is limited to appropriation amounts.  Thompson argued that the Write-Down Veto was not limited to appropriations, and could be used as freely as the Digit Veto. Additionally, Thompson claimed that even if the Write-Down Veto was limited to appropriations, the amount in question was an appropriation, and thus the use of the Write-Down Veto was valid. In the end, the Supreme Court sided with the legislators writing, “We conclude that the Governor’s write-in veto may be exercised only on a monetary figure which is an appropriation amount and that the monetary figure in the second sentence of section 57 of 1995 A.B. 557 is not an appropriation amount. Accordingly, we hold that the Governor’s write-in veto challenged in the present case is not authorized by the constitution and is therefore invalid.”

Thank you to the Legislative Reference Bureau for their assistance in gathering information for this report.