State Supreme Court rules that Gov. Inslee overstepped his authority on veto of 2019 bill

Nov 10, 2021, 1:15 PM | Updated: Nov 11, 2021, 7:51 am

Gov Jay Inslee veto...

Gov. Jay Inslee. (Office of the Governor, Facebook)

(Office of the Governor, Facebook)

In a 7-2 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Washington State affirmed a lower court decision, ruling that Gov. Jay Inslee’s veto of a single sentence in a 2019 transportation budget bill was an illegal move that operated beyond his authority.

Lawmakers disappointed by Gov. Inslee’s veto pen

At issue was Inslee’s veto of a line that would have barred state transportation officials from considering different fuel types as a factor when selecting grantees for some programs. The governor argued it was within his authority to use partial vetoes on appropriations – but the courts disagreed.

Justices wrote that the Legislature enacted the fuel type condition under its constitutional authority to appropriate funds and control how those funds are spent, and that Inslee had exceeded his authority in striking the provision down with his veto pen.

“This case requires the court to exercise two of our most fundamental duties: to ‘delineate and maintain the proper constitutional balance between the coordinate branches of our State government with respect to the veto’ and, more broadly, to interpret the constitution faithfully,” the ruling reads. “We hold that the Washington Legislature enacted the fuel type condition pursuant to its constitutional authority to appropriate funds and to control the expenditure of those funds.”

Penning a dissenting opinion was Justice Mary Yu, who argued that in this particular case, the courts should “reject our precedent.”

“Today, I believe the majority shifts the balance of power too far in favor of the legislature, and it does so in a footnote based on dicta from another footnote,” Justice Yu said. “I would reverse the trial court and hold that the governor’s veto of the fuel type condition here was a valid exercise of the constitutional line item veto power.”

Inslee cap-and-invest proposal draws criticism from environmentalists

This instance in 2019 wasn’t the only time Gov. Inslee clashed with state lawmakers over a line-item veto in transportation legislation. In 2021, the governor struck down part of a bill that would set a goal to end the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2030, contingent on having at least 75% of registered vehicles in the state participating in a yet-to-be-completed pay-per-mile road usage charge.

Explaining his decision on the veto, Inslee indicated that while he supported phasing out gas-powered vehicles, such a measure shouldn’t be tied to a pay-per-mile system that has yet to be fully realized.

State Senate Transportation Committee Chair Steve Hobbs criticized the move at the time as “illegal.”

“It blows up the trust, compromise that we try to give these bills together. It’s very disappointing,” Hobbs said in May of 2021.

KIRO Radio reporter Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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State Supreme Court rules that Gov. Inslee overstepped his authority on veto of 2019 bill