Governor’s Veto Derails Popular Short Line Rail Bill

Governor’s Veto Derails Popular Short Line Rail Bill
Washington's governor vetoes short line rail bill, but two-thirds override by lawmakers is still possible. Photo: Derek Cashman

Governor Jay Inslee this week vetoed a bipartisan bill approved by the state legislature that would have loosened the state Growth Management Act’s (GMA) rural land development restrictions and provided employers with critical freight mobility access.

The decision was panned by sponsors of ESHB 1504 for what they say was placing ideology over economic development in southwestern Washington. A two-thirds override by lawmakers is being contemplated.

ESHB 1504 had been approved previously by the state Senate 41-8 on April 12 and the House in a 83-17 vote on March 7. The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Liz Pike (R-18) and included nine Democrat cosponsors.

The proposal would have given counties and cities east of the crest of the Cascade mountains the authority to decide whether to allow freight rail development on land normally designated for preservation. Proponents argued this was necessary to attract new employers – who required short line rail access only feasible on preserved lands – to Clark County, which in turn could have provided thousands of new jobs.

In his May 16 veto letter, Inslee wrote: “While this bill might help rural counties to develop adjacent to short line railroads in designated counties, it would undermine our longstanding commitment to preserve working farms and promote our agricultural economy.

“The Growth Management Act provides for a process to redesignate resource lands and convert the use of those lands. As part of a broader review of the Growth Management Act, it would be appropriate to reexamine how we provide additional flexibility for encouraging economic development in rural areas,” he wrote further. “It is my understanding that such a review is proposed in the Senate and House budgets, and I would support that review.”

However, this explanation failed to placate Pike, who has attempted to get the legislation passed several times and is now exploring the possibility of a two-thirds override by the legislature. The bill’s overwhelming popularity among lawmakers makes the option tenable, though it would require both House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-9) to bring the bill back to their respective floors for another vote.

In a statement, Pike wrote that “the governor frequently talks about job creation in our state, but today’s veto proves that protecting the state’s overly-restrictive, bureaucratic 27-year-old Growth Management Act (GMA) is far more important to him than improving our state’s economy and providing jobs that would have put food on the table for thousands of Washington families.”

In addition to the bipartisan backing, the bill had also been tailored to meet environmental concerns raised by House Environment Committee Chair Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34), Pike said.

“This was one of the few meaningful job-creation bills to pass the Legislature during the 2017 session,” she wrote. “Most disappointingly, however, is that Governor Inslee has once again shown that job creation and the economic vitality of those citizens who live beyond what he can see from the top of the Seattle Space Needle is just not important to him.”





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