Budget Vetoes V – Vanna White

Part five of the series on the partial veto powers of the Governor of Wisconsin, reviews the “Vanna White” Veto. This is one of the two forms of partial veto whose use is now prevented by the constitution due to amendments made in response to their use. Named for the “Wheel of Fortune” host, this partial veto strikes certain letters from words to create new words. The “Vanna White” Veto is comparable to the Editing Veto, as both alter bills through deleting specific language, yet the two differed in scope, with the Editing Veto deleting entire words, not individual letters.

Governor Tony Earl first used this partial veto on the 1983 biennial budget, changing the destination for appeals regarding waste disposal from the Public Service Commission to the courts. The Legislative Reference Bureau summarized the veto in the report  “The Wisconsin Governor’s Partial Veto”, writing, “To make this change, Governor Earl partially vetoed a paragraph of five sentences containing 121 words into a new, one-sentence paragraph of 22 words. The parts of an appropriation bill subject to veto were reduced to a collection of individual letters on the bill’s pages.”

The “Vanna White” Veto went unchallenged for four years, until Governor Tommy Thompson used it on the 1987 biennial budget bill. Senate President Fred Risser and Speaker of the Assembly Thomas Loftus sued Thompson. The dispute was settled by the Supreme Court in the case Wisconsin State Legislature v. Tommy G. Thompson. Risser and Loftus argued that Thompson lacked the constitutional authority to veto individual letters, therefore some of the vetoes were unconstitutional. Thompson maintained that his vetoes were lawful, citing the decision in Kleczka v. Conta (discussed in part three of our veto series). The court ruled in favor of Thompson, writing, “…the governor may, in the exercise of his partial veto authority over appropriation bills, veto individual words, letters and digits, and also may reduce appropriations by striking digits, as long as what remains after veto is a complete, entire, and workable law.”

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, the legislature held an extraordinary session, adopting 1987 Senate Joint Resolution 71 to amend the Constitution to prevent future use of the “Vanna White” Veto. In 1989, the legislature approved the resolution for the second time, then the public then approved the amendment on April 3, 1990.