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Harsdorf chides Doyle for 'Frankenstein veto'

RIVER FALLS: While State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf has some good things to say about the 2005-2007 state budget, by the end of last week she promised to draft a constitutional amendment to limit the governor's line-item veto power.

"Wisconsin citizens would be shocked if they saw how major funding decisions are being made in the budget Gov. Jim Doyle," said Harsdorf, R-River Falls. She accused Doyle of using a "Frankenstein veto by stitching together parts of sentences to make a whole new sentence that the legislature never intended."

Posted on her web site is a graphic showing how Doyle vetoed 752 words and in some cases individual digits in four subsections of the budget to get a 20-word sentence that transfers $427 million from the transportation budget to the general fund. The partial veto takes the $4 from $484,000, the 2 and 7 from 2005-2007, the zero from "section 20.395," the zero from "section 85.026" and the four zeros from $80,000 to make $427,000,000.

"This is truly amazing stuff, but when it's dealing with hundreds of millions of dollars, it is also an alarming abuse of power," said Harsdorf.

But she had good things to say about some of the goals of the budget.

"I think that the budget does prioritize education," said Harsdorf. "I'd like to believe there's common agreement in prioritizing education and providing services to the needy."

Even before the governor began his editing to give $400 million more to K-12 education, the budget adopted by the legislature had increased K-12 education funding by $458 million.

"That was four times the increase we saw in the last budget," said Harsdorf. She added all the extra money is on top of the $5.3 billion the state already provides to school districts.

Both sides agreed early on the budget not should raise taxes, and it doesn't, Harsdorf said.

"I was pleased that the governor joined us in recognizing the need for a property tax freeze," she said. "I think that was a big move on his part."

The "freeze" isn't a real freeze because it still allows levy increases based on growth, but that's a good thing, said Harsdorf. "I wouldn't want a freeze that did not take into account growth in a community."

Because Doyle's vetoes exempt debt service and technical colleges from the levy freeze, the budget as it stands could result in levies climbing faster than they would have under the legislature's version of the freeze, said Harsdorf.

"It will be dependent on some of the things that happen locally," she said.

"This is not a we-versus-them," said Harsdorf, adding local and state governments must work together to keep taxes in check. "We all need to be sensitive to what taxpayers are saying."

Harsdorf said the governor's budget relies too heavily on borrowing and one-time transfers of money. She said it fails to recognize "the importance of using real money and not the credit card."

Harsdorf compared the budget to a farmer who receives a monthly milk check, but borrows to pay the feed bill. Borrowing on a 20-year repayment plan for ongoing operations is poor fiscal policy, she said.

"You cannot continue doing that financially and survive," she said.

Harsdorf wasn't yet sure if transfers from the transportation fund to education will mean cuts in transportation spending or if they will mean more borrowing.

"We're going to have other problems when we start transferring money from funds that are set up for a different purpose," she said.

Wisconsin gives its governors the most liberal line item veto power of any state in the nation. That's good, said Harsdorf, because it enables the state's chief executive to make sure the state is in good financial shape.

While there's no denying Republican governors have long used partial vetoes extensively, when they did it they clipped out parts of numbers to make lower numbers, said Harsdorf.

She said the courts have concluded governors can use write-down vetoes because the lower number is part of the higher number. But that isn't what Doyle did.

"With each passing year, creativity and broad legal interpretations expand executive power so that it is not only becoming dominant, but overwhelming," said Harsdorf.

She said the amendment she proposes will prohibit "creating a new sentence by combining parts of two or more sentences."

Harsdorf urges people to visit her web site to see details of the way Doyle used his partial veto to transfer funds from the Department of Transportation. The address is .