“There’s No Transparency”: Secretive “Pocket Veto” Scuttles Wisconsin Projects

A review of past budget documents by Wisconsin Watch revealed the practice of secret vetoes under both Republican and Democratic control.

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has increasingly used anonymous objections to delay or derail funding from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program for land conservation projects, especially in northern Wisconsin.

A review of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) data by Wisconsin Watch found that the number of JFC objections to Knowles-Nelson projects has grown during Governor Evers’ administration. Since Evers took office in 2019, the JFC has objected to at least 26 stewardship projects, up from the 17 objections it raised under the Walker administration.

Wisconsin Watch also found that in many cases, the JFC did not schedule a public hearing on projects that were halted by these anonymous objections, effectively giving the JFC a “pocket veto” over projects and programs, a practice that is in violation of state law.

The Pelican River Forest project is a recent example of the JFC’s power to stall land conservation efforts. Senator Mary Felzkowski’s objection has put on hold this $15.5 million conservation easement deal that would provide public access and recreational opportunities on more than 56,000 acres around the Pelican River in northern Wisconsin. Blocking this once-in-a-generation opportunity raises the stakes for a confrontation with the JFC.

“It’s clear that the finance committee is exceeding their legal authority,” said Charles Carlin, director of strategic initiatives for Gathering Waters. “We really think that the stewardship program is at a breaking point now. Things have to change and we just simply have to put more daylight on this process.”

Featured image by Nick Olejniczak, 2008.

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