It only took a few slices of creative drafting for Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin to push through a long-term boost to public education funding.
And by long term, we mean long a term
As in, for the next 400 years.
On Wednesday, Mr. Evers, a Democratic former teacher and state superintendent, took advantage of weird, Wisconsin rule this has long given governors a partial veto, allowing them to change laws through some drafting trickery.
Governor Evers increased the amount that school districts could generate through property taxes by an additional $325 per student each year. In the original budget, the increase was allowed through the 2024-25 school year.
But with the slash of a dash and the cut of “20”, Mr. Evers changed 2024-25 to the year 2425.
State Republicans, who have made an art of blocking Governor Evers’ agenda, were quick to condemn the veto, which also rejected Republican tax cut plan this included relief for top-income brackets.
“Legislative Republicans have worked tirelessly over the past few months to block Governor Evers’ liberal tax and spending agenda,” said Robin Vos, the Republican speaker of the State Assembly. statement. “Unfortunately, because of his powerful veto authority, he reinstated some of it today.”
Mr. Evers — who won his first term in 2018 in part by arguing that the incumbent, Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, wasn’t spending enough on schools — announced the changes without a hint of irony.
The new budget “ensures that school districts have a level of budget certainty that they have not experienced” since cuts made after the Great Recession, his office said in newsadding that the revenue adjustments will last “effectively forever.”
Over time, Wisconsin voters have come down on the state’s unusual veto authority. In 1990, voters removed the “Vanna White veto,” which allowed governors to strike out individual letters in words to create new words. In 2008, voters rejected the “Frankenstein veto,” which involved combining parts of two or more sentences to create a new sentence.
Because Mr. Evers’ veto eliminated only whole words and numbers, without combining two or more sentences to create a new sentence, it appeared to be legal, said Rick Champagne, director of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan agency that provides research. and legal matters. advice to state legislators.
“Governor Evers’ veto does adhere to the constitutional requirements for a partial veto,” he said in an email.
The law could be challenged or appealed.
In 2017, Mr. Walker, the former governor, implemented what was known as the “millennial veto” by striking the figures “1” and “2” from the date “Dec. 31, 2018,” — changing the date to “Dec. 3018.” The edit, to a law involving school districts and energy efficiency projects, was challenged in court, but supported by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on the grounds that the challenge was not brought in a timely manner.
“We don’t have case law on the legality of a partial veto that would affect law for centuries,” Mr. Champagne said.
Nationally, Wisconsin sits in the middle of the road when it comes to public school funding. Adjusting for local costs, Wisconsin spent about $15,000 per student in the 2019-20 school year, in line with the national average, according to the Education Law Center.
The new budget does not automatically increase state spending every year. Rather, it allows school districts to raise their total revenue amount — which comes from a combination of state aid and property taxes — by $325 per student each year, the largest increase to the revenue limit in Wisconsin in more than a decade. If the legislature does not increase state aid in future years, school districts would have the authority to raise property taxes.
Predictably, there was little agreement on whether this was a good thing.
Tyler August, a Republican and majority leader of the State Assembly, called the governor’s move “an irresponsible veto that would blow the roof off real estate,” adding, “Taxpayers need to remember that when they get their tax bills this December.”
But Dan Rossmiller, the executive director of the Wisconsin School Boards Association, told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the change, although “certainly appreciated”, may not be enough to keep up with inflation for some districts.
“I wish the amount was higher,” he told the news outlet.