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Judge rules that Inslee’s transportation budget vetoes exceeded his authority

A Thurston County Superior Court judge ruled that Gov. Inslee’s 2019 vetoes of provisions in the state’s two-year transportation budget exceeded his constitutional authority.

Judge Carol Murphy ruled that the governor’s vetoes of lines within Section 220 of Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1160 – the state’s two-year transportation budget – were outside of his veto power.

Friday afternoon, legislative Republicans applauded the ruling.

The governor exceeded his constitutional role and the court ultimately agreed with the Legislature’s legal arguments. Beyond the separation of powers issue, I thought the governor’s vetoes were problematic on a policy level,” said Rep. Andrew Barkis, ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee. “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. This is important for these agencies as they look to deliver critical transit services for their riders.”

The governor’s office had not responded to the court’s decision as of Friday afternoon.

Six single-sentence provisions in section 220 relating to public transportation grants in Section 220 of the bill were vetoed by the governor on May 21, 2019.

Subsequently, the House Executive Rules Committee and the Senate Facilities and Operations Committee voted unanimously to file a lawsuit against the governor.

The vetoed sections did not align with green transportation adoption measures supported by governor. One of the vetoed lines read: “Fuel type may not be a factor in the grant selection process.”

In her decision, Judge Murphy referred to a portion of the state constitution which limits the governor’s veto authority to entire bills, sections of bills, and appropriation items. The statue says that the governor “may not object to less than an entire section, except that if the section contains one or more appropriation items, the governor may object to any such appropriation item or items.”

Since Inslee’s vetoes in this case were less than an entire section of the bill, the question at hand was whether to defer to the Legislature’s original structuring of sections in the bill. The legislature is entitled to deference unless the governor can prove that the sections are structured in such a way that manipulates, in order to circumvent, the governor’s veto authority.

Judge Murphy ruled that the governor’s office had not met the burden of proof necessary to prove manipulation, and therefore the vetoes he issued exceeded his authority. She also noted the civic implications of the case.

It is a rare day that this court has the privilege of hearing a case concerning each of the three branches of government, which includes the court’s role in resolving this dispute and the separation of those powers,” wrote Murphy. “In a time of great uncertainty in our country and in our community during this pandemic, this case assures us that disputes regarding the constitutional roles of our three branches of government and the system of checks and balances are quite relevant today.”

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