Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Wisconsin Constitution and the Budget

Last week, Charlie Sykes commented upon the logrolling that seemed to be an integral part of, if not at the heart of, the state budget process. There is,as he pointed out, a criminal statute that prohibits vote trading among legislators, but there are also a couple of constitutional provisions that are aimed at sneaking special favors into larger bills.

Art. IV, sec 18 of the Wisconsin Constitution, for example provideds that "[n]o private or local bill which may be passed by the legislature shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title." "Local laws" apply only to particular places and "private laws" apply only to particular persons or things. To get all hammy about it, section 18 says that if we are to hand out the other white meat, the pork must be identified on the label and we can only have one meal at a time. The obvious purpose is to prevent special favors to be stuck in the fine print of a bill and to prevent assembling a majority for a piece of legislation through the passing of the platter.

But there's more. Article IV, section 31 prohibits private and special laws on a variety of subjects, although section 32 permits it to be done by general laws operating by classification.

There have, historically, been two ways around this. One, as section 32 suggests, is to legidlate by classification. This is often done when the legislature wants to do something for or to Milwaukee. Laws are passed that apply only to cities of the first class which is defined in a way that could only apply to Milwaukee.

Another is to argue that the law relates to a state responsibility of statewide dimension and will have a direct and immediate effect on a specific statewide concern or interest. Thus, if the budget bill included funds for a new building to house the DMV in, say, Mazomanie, that'd pass muster.

I have not gone through the budget bill and cannot say whether any provison may run afoul of these constitutional restrictions, but some of the DOT grants to municipalities, the moving of the Mars Cheese sign, etc., raise questions. They may all be fine but keep this in mind as people actually read the thing.

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