Judge invalidates Gov. Inslee’s veto in roads budget

Lawmakers said the governor crossed a constitutional line.

A Thurston County judge in Olympia has invalidated Gov. Jay Inslee’s vetoes of single sentences in the transportation budget in 2019, concluding those actions exceeded his authority as the state’s chief executive.

The decision, handed down late last week, is a win for the state Legislature which sued the governor, asserting the two-term Democrat crossed a constitutional line separating his power to veto from their power to legislate.

“We have a system of checks and balances that is vital to the functions of our state and this case was right on the line,” Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said Monday. “I am pleased with the outcome.”

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, issued a statement June 26 when the judicial order was signed.

“We are pleased that the court agreed with the Legislature’s understanding of the governor’s veto power and position on this important separation of powers issue,” he said. “It is helpful for the Legislature to have this legal certainty as it confronts state budget challenges in the weeks and months ahead.”

When Inslee signed the transportation budget in May 2019, he acknowledged there was no precedent for vetoing single sentences in the manner that he did.

Now, he’ll have to decide whether to battle on.

“We appreciate the Court’s review of the complex issues in this case, and we are considering our options,” Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said in an email June 26.

The legal fight centered on one sentence which appears at the end of six provisions in the transportation budget pertaining to grant funding for transit services including purchases of buses and vanpools. The bill was passed in April 2019 and Inslee issued the vetoes when he signed the budget in May 2019. The Democrat-controlled Legislature filed suit Aug. 29.

In Inslee’s tenure, laws have been passed pushing transit providers, public and private nonprofits, to move from gasoline-powered vehicles to zero-emission vehicles such as ones powered by electricity. State law lists energy efficiency standards as one of the criteria to be considered as part of the grant selection process.

In the 2019-21 budget, lawmakers included the line: “Fuel type may not be a factor in the grant selection process.” They said this would ensure transit agencies who are unable to make the transition to zero-emission vehicles right away can still apply for the roughly $200 million in grants offered through the state’s public transportation program.

That line is what got cut. Inslee argued at the time of the veto that it amended existing law by changing the rules for the grant selection process. He contended the constitution requires such a revision be done with a separate bill and not through the budget.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy disagreed and invalidated the vetoes.

Governors can veto entire bills, complete sections of bills and individual appropriation items, she noted in her ruling. A governor cannot veto less than a full section unless it can be shown the Legislature acted purposely to circumvent their authority, which it did not do in this case, she said.

Those sentences did not represent substantive legislation nor were they separate appropriations, she decided.

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee, said he was concerned with the damaging policy changes wrought by the vetoes.

“The language allowed for smaller, rural transit agencies to compete for grants and funding and not be constrained by having fuel type as a requirement,” he said. “This is important for these agencies as they look to deliver critical transit services for their riders.”


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@issaquahreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.issaquahreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

King County 2020 unemployment numbers. Source: Washington State Employment Security Department
Boeing, coronavirus likely to impact King County economy

Unemployment remained high in September.

Issaquah City Hall.
Issaquah passes sales tax increase in 4-3 council vote before King County

The city will collect revenues from a new sales tax increase for affordable housing, unless King County supports funding a long-time housing project in Issaquah.

File photo
State Supreme Court strikes down $30 car-tab initiative

Justices unanimously agreed that voter-approved Initiative 976 is unconstitutional.

Hilary Franz (left) and Sue Kuehl Pederson
Wildfires, forest health are key issues in race to lead DNR

Republican Sue Kuehl Pederson is challenging incumbent Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

power grid electricity power lines blackouts PG&E (Shutterstock)
State extends moratorium on some electric, gas shutoffs

Investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in WA can’t disconnect customers through April.

A Sept. 10 satellite image shows smoke from U.S. wildfires blanketing the majority of the West Coast. (European Space Agency)
University of Washington professors talk climate change, U.S.-China relations

Downside for climate policy supporters is it can risk alienating moderate or right-leaning voters.

Issaquah City Hall.
Mayor presents the 2021 City of Issaquah budget

The city will face financial challenges ahead with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sightseers at a Snoqualmie Falls viewpoint adjacent to the Salish Lodge & Spa on Feb. 19, 2020. Natalie DeFord/staff photo
25 COVID cases linked to Salish Lodge

Public Health is urging anyone who visited the lodge to monitor for symptoms or get tested.

The nose of the 500th 787 Dreamliner at the assembly plant in Everett on Sept. 21, 2016. (Kevin Clark / Herald, file)
Report: Boeing will end 787 Dreamliner production in Everett

Boeing declined comment on a Wall Street Journal story saying the passenger jet’s assembly will move to South Carolina.

Stock photo
5th Legislative District: Ramos, Moninski talk business and economy

The candidates squared off at an Issaquah Chamber of Commerce forum.

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. File photo
Surge in consumer spending eases state budget challenges

A jump in tax collections cuts a projected $9 billion shortfall in half, acccording to new forecast.

Issaquah plans to bring back some in-person learning

Kindergarten and first grade could return for some in-person learning by Oct. 15