Budget Vetoes Part III – Editing Veto

In Part III of our series on the partial veto powers of the Governor of Wisconsin, we will highlight the Editing Veto. The Editing Veto is a form of partial veto that allows the governor to delete individual words. This means that by removing specific words from bills, the governor has the power to change how policy is implemented, or if it is implemented at all. This is distinct from the Digit Veto (Digit Veto Blog), as the Digit Veto is only capable of striking individual numbers to change appropriation amounts, while the Editing Veto actually deletes language included in the bill.

The first use of the Editing Veto was on the 1975 biennial budget bill by Governor Patrick Lucey. In addition to a new form of partial veto, the 1975 budget bill marked the highest number of partial vetoes to a bill at that point, with 42 vetoes. Governor Lucey used the Editing Veto to change a 50% minimum subsidy on tourism advertising to a 50% maximum through veto of the word “not” in the phrase “not less than”. According to “The Governor’s Partial Veto”, by the Legislative Reference Bureau, “This was the first time a Wisconsin governor used the partial veto to expressly reverse the intent of the legislature.” This precedent would pave the way for Governor Martin Schreiber’s controversial use of the partial veto.

Governor Schreiber’s use of the Editing Veto on AB-664 in 1977 has been described as “… the most controversial use of the partial veto to date” by the Legislative Reference Bureau in “The Governor’s Partial Veto”. AB-664 reformed campaign finance laws in Wisconsin, which Governor Schreiber described as, “… the most significant political reform measure implemented in Wisconsin since the Progressive reforms at the turn of the century” in his veto letter. The bill established a public fund for state political campaigns, and placed spending limits on candidates accepting public funds. The public fund was maintained by an optional one dollar add-on to on income tax bills. The LRB detailed Governor Schreiber’s use of the veto: “… [the] partial veto replaced the add-on with a checkoff, which meant that the $1 would be paid from the state’s general fund rather than collected through individual tax returns. This was not just a policy reversal; it was a complete policy change…”

In response to Governor Schreiber’s use of the Editing Veto, Senator Kleczka and Representative Shabaz sued the Governor, with support from Attorney General Bronson La Follette. Kleczka, Shabaz, and La Follette opposed Governor Schreiber’s use of the partial veto on three grounds. First, they claimed that the vetoed bill had not been returned to the Assembly in time for the vetoes to stand. Second, Kleczka and Shabaz argued that the bill was not an appropriation bill, and thus was exempt from Governor Schreiber’s partial veto powers, though Attorney General La Follette took exception to this claim. Finally, they contended that even were the first two points invalid, that Governor Schreiber’s use of the Editing Veto deleted language critical to the bill, rendering the vetoes invalid. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Governor Schreiber, writing, “It is our conclusion that Enrolled Bill 664 was an appropriation bill and that a proper return was made to the *687 originating house of the Legislature within the six days allowed by the Constitution. We conclude that the portions stricken were severable from the enrolled bill; and corollary to the latter conclusion, we conclude that the bill as partially vetoed by the Governor and published by the Secretary of State was a complete, workable bill, which meets the requirements heretofore stated by this court to be mandated by the Constitution.”

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