Wisconsin Supreme Court hears Evers' lawsuit against GOP lawmakers

Governor alleges 'committee vetoes' are unconstitutional
Harm thumbnail 4/17/24
Posted at 3:36 PM, Apr 19, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-19 16:36:18-04

MADISON — The Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit Democratic Gov. Tony Evers filed against the Republican-controlled Legislature, alleging that lawmakers were improperly using “legislative vetoes” to block his actions.

The Legislature’s attorneys argued that rejecting certain spending decisions is well within the powers of the legislative branch and warned justices about the potential widespread implications for how the state operates.

“They would have this court overturn how our state government has functioned for almost a century,” said attorney Misha Tseytlin, who is representing GOP lawmakers in the case.

Evers filed the lawsuit last year after the GOP-led Joint Finance Committee, which writes the state budget, refused to release pay raises for Universities of Wisconsin employees, even though the raises were provided for in the most recent budget. The lawsuit also took issue with the committee blocking conservation grants.

The finance committee has rejected dozens of grant applications in recent years under the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, which uses state money to help the DNR and nonprofit land trusts purchase and protect land. Rejections from the finance committee are often anonymous, cannot be appealed, and can come from a single lawmaker without a vote being held.

Charles Carlin, director of strategic initiatives at Gathering Waters, said that in his work with land trusts, he’s seen more and more people shy away from applying for grants because of the committee’s vetoes.

Spending under the Knowles-Nelson program reached its lowest point in more than 20 years in 2022, according to a report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

“Many of our land trust members have just thrown up their hands and they say, ‘We’re not going to apply for Knowles-Nelson grants. We can’t handle the uncertainty, we can’t handle the amount of time and investment that we would dump into a grant application that may just be swatted away,” he said.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision on the case in the coming months. A ruling in Evers’ favor could strengthen the governor’s power to make decisions on state spending and projects.

Since the court flipped to liberal control last year, the new majority has issued several consequential rulings in favor of Democrats, including on abortion and legislative redistricting.