Governor Jay Inslee this week partially vetoed legislation that would allow school districts to build new facilities for urban students outside of the so-called “urban growth boundary” as defined by the state Growth Management Act (GMA).
The veto restricts the bill’s impact to Pierce County, where a local school district has struggled to find suitable land for a new building. Inslee’s action was criticized by House Republicans who believe GMA exemptions should be permitted statewide.
Setback For School Modernization
The legislation, ESHB 1017, previously had been approved by the state House and Senate with broad bipartisan support. The bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4), said in a Wednesday statement: “It’s a shame the governor, despite his continued talk of one Washington, is not serious about treating rural communities the same as urban communities.”
“With this veto today, he’s ensuring schools around the state will not be allowed to modernize and students will continue to be educated in portables,” he added.
Voicing mutual disappointment, cosponsor State Rep. David Taylor (R-15) wrote that “the governor’s decision clearly sends the message that the urban growth boundary line is far more important to him than local, community-based decisions.”
“It’s illogical to continue having schools placed in industrial zones when there is oftentimes available land outside urban growth boundaries that is more affordable and makes more sense for students and school districts,” he added.
As Lens previously reported, the bill’s original, bipartisan passage comes after several years of unsuccessful attempts to address a growing problem among many school districts: the lack of available land in urban areas to build new schools. The Bethel School District planned to build a new high school outside the UGA, but a 2012 hearings board ruling prohibited them from doing so, because it would serve some urban students.
Inslee: Veto Made To Protect Rural Land
Inslee sought to justify the veto during the signing ceremony on April 26 by citing concerns raised by some Democratic lawmakers that the bill could undermine the GMA’s ability to preserve rural areas.
In his veto letter, Inslee wrote that “any extension of urban services to serve a rural school must be limited to the size and scale needed to support the long-term needs of the school.… In order for schools to be sited outside the Urban Growth Boundary Line, school districts must demonstrate that there is no suitable land available within the Urban Growth Area.”
GMA reform has been the impetus behind several bills approved by the legislature this year that seek to bypass growth restrictions and rulings imposed by the state Growth Management Hearing Board. These efforts have been criticized by environmental groups such as Futurewise, which voiced opposition to ESHB 1017.
Inslee told reporters at the signing ceremony that “much of the discussion has, at least facially, talked about the need just to help schools and not be sort of an erosion of the values of the Growth Management Act. I am very confident that we can fashion a way to do that. You just have to make sure the pipe is just big enough to serve the school and not some additional development that would otherwise contravene the value system that is in the Growth Management Act.”
Revised Legislation Unlikely During Session
However, McCaslin told Lens that creating a new bill from scratch during the special session is unrealistic, and that there are no plans to introduce further legislation at this point.
“The main message in my mind is that the governor is willing to come up with solutions for the Puget Sound area, but not anywhere else in the state. What happened today is a very accurate reflection of that,” he said.