Wisconsin governor sues Republican legislators over withheld university pay raises

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Dive Brief: 

  • Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers filed a lawsuit against Republican state lawmakers this week that accused them of impeding government functions, including by unlawfully withholding pay raises for Universities of Wisconsin system employees. 
  • The complaint, filed in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court on Tuesday, argues that several recent lawmakers’ actions attempt to bypass the normal legislative process to change state laws. 
  • Evers, a Democrat, pointed to the Republican-controlled Joint Committee on Employment Relations, which voted earlier this month to exclude Universities of Wisconsin employees from already-approved pay raises for all state workers. The lawsuit aims to take away the committee’s ability to veto the pay adjustments, arguing that the power violates the state’s separation of powers.

Dive Insight: 

The lawsuit represents an escalation in the battle over the state’s DEI spending. Republican Wisconsin state Rep. Robin Vos, who co-chairs the employment relations committee, has said he would block the raises unless the system cut DEI jobs. 

In a Tuesday announcement, Evers accused the state’s employment relations committee of “holding hostage statutory pay raises” for the system’s roughly 43,000 employees by “demanding that UW first make policy concessions to the Legislature not found or required in any law.”

In July, Evers signed Wisconsin’s two-year budget, which included 4% raises for state employees in the first year and 2% raises in the second. However, the Universities of Wisconsin system cannot implement the raises without approval from the state’s employment relations committee. 

That committee’s leaders blocked the raises during a meeting earlier this month. During it, Vos, who is also Assembly speaker, proposed only allowing the raises to go forward if the system handed the Legislature the power to approve new university positions.

Republican lawmakers had attempted to cut these positions in Wisconsin’s budget, but Evers vetoed the proposal. However, the package did cut $32 million from the Universities of Wisconsin budget — the amount Republicans expected the system would spend on DEI initiatives over the next two years. 

The complaint asks the court to declare the committee’s veto provision unconstitutional. 

“Once the Legislature passed the biennial budget bill, the baton passed to the executive branch to administer the pay adjustments therein,” the lawsuit argues. “But this legislative veto permits [the employment relations committee] to delay, approve, or reject UW’s pay adjustments for any reason.”

Vos did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. A representative for state Sen. Chris Kapenga, the other committee co-chair, said he was unavailable to comment. 

The lawsuit also names legislators on two other committees that Evers accused of unlawfully obstructing government functions. 

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu called the lawsuit “frivolous” in a Tuesday statement

“The Governor is working to diminish the voice of Wisconsinites by limiting the authority of the legislature and unduly strengthening his own administration,” LeMahieu said.



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