Judge invalidates Gov. Inslee’s veto in roads budget

Judge invalidates Gov. Inslee’s veto in roads budget

Lawmakers said the governor crossed a constitutional line.

  • Wednesday, July 1, 2020 4:27pm
  • News

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@redmond-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.redmond-reporter.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

NW Carpenters Union members strike in front of downtown Bellevue construction site (photo by Cameron Sheppard)
Carpenters union strike interupts some prominent Eastside construction projects

Union representative says members are prepared to strike “as long as it takes.”

Map of proposed landfill expansion sites (screenshot from King County website)
Waste management expert knocks county’s plan to expand landfill

The waste management advocate said the decision to expand seems pre-determined despite assessment.

Participants in fundraiser previous event (courtesy of Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter)
Walk To End Alzheimer’s returns to Eastside on Sept. 25

Alzheimer’s Association moves forward with plans for an in-person event.

file photo
State employees including first responders sue state over vaccine mandate

The lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 90 plaintiffs claims Inslee’s order is unconstitutional.

Photo of construction of Westside Park renovations (courtesy of City of Redmond)
Redmond’s Westside Park renovation is expected to be complete this Fall

Renovations are focused on increasing recreational space while also preserving “woodsy” aesthetic.

Pixabay photo
Union carpenters to go on strike, expected to impact Eastside Microsoft projects

Members authorized strike after rejecting AGC offer for the fourth time.

file photo
The state’s hospitals face “unprecedented collapse” amid COVID uptick warn healthcare unions

Union spokeperson says understaffing was a problem even before the pandemic.

pizza from Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie (courtesy of Serious Pie)
Eastside to get its first Serious Pie restaurant location

Serious Pie is owned by Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas.

Most Read