Thompson Uses Record 457 Vetoes To Shape Wis. Budget

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Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin used a record 457 vetoes last month to refashion a controversial state budget plan approved by the legislature in July.

The retooled, $6.7-billion budget includes a new property-tax-relief plan created by the Governor. It also resurrects a controversial proposal, previously rejected by lawmakers, to offer incentives for teenage mothers on welfare to marry.

Mr. Thompson's handiwork bears little resemblance to the $28-billion, two-year proposal approved by the legislature early in July. (See Education Week, July 31, 1991.)

The legislative plan, which Mr. Thompson had threatened to veto in its entirety, included $534 million in a variety of new taxes and a complex proposal designed to give taxpayers a break from high property taxes.

Backers of the legislature's property-tax measure said it would also have the effect of raising the state's portion of public-school expenditures to more than half for the first time--a goal set by the Governor during his election campaigns but never reached.

Mr. Thompson contends, however, that his new plan will achieve both aims without a general tax increase. He proposes using proceeds from the state lottery to fund a credit, worth about $140 on average, for homeowners' property-tax bills. The credit will be available for the amount of local school taxes owed on the first $8,200 in value of a primary residence. State lawmakers had proposed a credit on the first $30,000 of a home's market value.

Mr. Thompson also reconfigured an existing property-tax credit for owners of both residential and commercial property. That credit, which previously had applied to both school and general-government taxes, will now only apply to school taxes.

Mr. Thompson said both the credits, combined with additional state aid for schools, would effectively raise the state's share of public-school spending to 50.3 percent.

In addition to altering the budget for fiscal 1992, the Governor also vetoed more than $4 billion in spending for 1993, including some funds for precollegiate schools, the state university system, and vocational education. A spokesman for Mr. Thompson said the Governor wanted to force the legislature to reconsider the second-year budget in January, when updated revenue forecasts are available.

Reviving 'Welfare'

The welfare proposal revived by the Governor would direct state officials to seek a waiver from the federal government allowing them to provide financial assistance and services to married teenage parents-the father as well as the mother-who have no history of work experience. Teenage fathers who are not married would be eligible for services, such as job training, but not for money.

Melanie Ohnstad, a policy adviser to Mr. Thompson, said the proposal, nicknamed "bridefare" or "welfare," is intended to remove current disincentives for teenage parents to marry. Now, teenage mothers lose their welfare benefits when they marry. (See Education Week, Feb. 20, 1991 .)

After the Governor proposed the new program early this year, however, the proposal went nowhere in the legislature. The Assembly voted the measure down, and the Senate never took it up.

Lawmakers voiced sharp criticism of Mr. Thompson's action on his welfare proposal. "The Governor is exercising great arrogance in suggesting he ought to go ahead with a program for which there is no legislative authority," said Representative Barbara Notestein, a Democrat from Milwaukee.

Indeed, the Republican Governor's aggressive use of his veto powers has long been a point of contention, particularly with Democrats who control both chambers of the legislature. In addition to using a record number of vetoes this year, Mr. Thompson also crossed out spending figures and wrote in lower dollar amounts.

Michael Haas, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Walter Kunicki, said lawmakers were meeting last week to decide whether to attempt to override the Governor's vetoes or to challenge his "write in" veto in court.

Legislators have had only limited success in the past in resisting Mr. Thompson's veto use, however, twice losing court challenges on the issue.

But a statewide referendum last year succeeded in forcing Mr. Thompson to drop the so-called "Vanna White" veto--the crossing out of individual letters in words to form new words.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 30

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as Thompson Uses Record 457 Vetoes To Shape Wis. Budget
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