Washington legislators sue governor over transportation budget veto

September 9, 2019

Keith Goble

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The Washington state Legislature is taking an unusual step to protest action taken by the governor in this year’s transportation budget. State House and Senate lawmakers filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug. 30 over what is described as “an illegal veto of six single-sentence provisions” in the two-year transportation budget. The provisions cover grant funding.

The Washington state Constitution authorizes a governor to veto sections of legislation while signing the bill into law.

The Democrat-led House and Senate say in their suit filed in Thurston County Superior Court that the governor overstepped his constitutional powers when he acted to remove sentences within sections of the budget. Republican lawmakers in both statehouse chambers joined their counterparts in the suit.

Earlier this year the Democratic governor vetoed provisions of the budget that address nearly $200 million in grant funding for transit services. The provisions clarify that “fuel type may not be a factor in the grant selection process.”

During his term as the state’s top executive, Inslee has enacted laws to mandate a transition from fuel-powered vehicles to zero-emission vehicles. Washington state law lists energy efficiency standards as one criteria in the grant selection process.

“The language was vetoed because it indirectly amends an existing statute through the transportation budget,” Inslee said in prepared remarks. “Our Constitution does not allow laws to be changed indirectly.”

State lawmakers say the outcome of the lawsuit will be significant for future legislative deal making.

Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Olympia, said the governor cannot be allowed to overstep his constitutional authority.

“This is why we have separate branches of the government,” Becker stated. “If this is allowed to stand, it would further damage the dwindling trust the legislature has in the governor.”

Inslee recently announced he will seek a third term as governor in 2020. He has downplayed the lawsuit.

“This is a respectful difference of opinion, and we look forward to forthcoming guidance from our courts.”

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Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.