Thursday, July 28, 2005

Doyle's Selective Veto Memory

As you may have read by now, Governor Doyle has taken his partial veto authority to new heights when signing the most recent state budget. In shifting over $400 million to the general fund, Doyle pieced together single words from multiple unrelated sentences to increase appropriations, which may be unconstitutional.

How did Doyle feel about expansive partial veto powers in 1992, as Attorney General? You may all remember (who doesn't?) his official Attorney General opinion where he criticized then-Governor Tommy Thompson for using his veto to stitch together a transfer of $10 million from the Local Government Property Insurance Program to the general fund (OAG 26-92).

Said Attorney General Doyle:

The Governor's partial veto of section 1117g of 1991 Wisconsin Act 269 did not result in a complete and workable law. The partial veto, therefore, was invalid. Because the Governor's approval was not necessary for the bill to become law, the invalidity of the partial veto results in the law being enforced as passed by the Legislature...

I must conclude that section 1117g after the partial veto is not a complete and workable law... I must also conclude that an otherwise incomplete and unworkable law cannot be made complete and workable through the Governor's veto message...

If the Governor is allowed to create ambiguity, or worse, through the use of the partial veto and then, through his veto message, allowed to accomplish a result which he could not accomplish through the exercise of partial veto, the April 1990 amendment to the constitution becomes a nullity.

Under Wisconsin's Constitution, a governor's partial veto is valid if it results in a complete, entire and workable law without reference to the Governor's veto message. Although reference to an executive message may be permissible when construing ambiguous executive action, Medlock v. Schmidt, 29 Wis. 2d 114, 121, 138 N.W.2d 248 (1965), it is not proper to use the Governor's veto message to give meaning to a law which otherwise would have no meaning. I conclude, therefore, that the Governor's partial veto of section 1117g of 1991 Wisconsin Act 269 did not result in a complete and workable law.

In fairness, I will grant that Thompson's veto was egregious, and the language he put together didn't quite work. But it pales in comparison to what Doyle is trying to pull off. With the Supreme Court and the governor both unilaterally making law, it seems like the voice of the people - the Legislature - are the only ones shut out of the people's business.

UPDATE: I couldn't find an online copy of this AG opinion - if anyone has any suggestions, let me know.