Governor Jay Inslee on Monday signed cap-and-trade and low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) legislation and is drawing flak from state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for vetoing the transportation package mandate contained in the bills. Legislators have vowed to challenge the vetoes in court, as they did successfully in 2019 after Inslee line-item vetoed provisions in the transportation budget.
“Washington Courts have consistently held that as a co-equal branch of government, the legislature is responsible for drafting laws and the executive branch is responsible for implementing them,” House Speaker Laurie Jinkins (D-27) wrote in a statement. “The Constitution provides the governor only limited powers to veto legislation. The governor’s partial veto today…reaches beyond his constitutional powers.”
Legislators opposed to Inslee have a strong case on their side. Article 3 Section 12 of the state Constitution says the governor cannot veto “less than an entire section, except that if the section contain one or more appropriation items he may object to any such appropriation item or items.”
“Maybe he’s emboldened by the sweeping authority he continues to have because majority Democrats refused to address emergency-power reform,” Senate Republican Leader John Braun (R-20) wrote in a statement. “Maybe he thinks the Supreme Court will overturn the lower court’s ruling. Whatever the reason, his subsection veto today is illegal. That alone says a lot about why our political system has checks and balances on one-person rule.”
Yet even if the courts overturn Inslee’s veto, he still may have poked the hornet’s nest for those lawmakers who chose to support either bill based on the inclusion of a transportation package mandate. Some legislators did so over concerns that the bills would increase gas prices, and the stipulation was added early on during negotiations over the cap-and-trade legislation. That bill would have also provided billions in revenue for Senate Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs’ (D-44) Forward Washington transportation package.
Though there were initial rumblings of a special session regarding Forward Washington, Olympia observers note that the vetoes throw doubt into negotiations over the package, which would ultimately require a 60-percent majority to authorize bonds.
While Inslee was joined at the May 17 signing by the cap-and-trade bill’s sponsor Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-36), Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5) in a statement wrote that Inslee’s veto “sets a chilling precedent and poisons the well for all future negotiations on virtually any tough issue. When it comes to the governor’s top priorities in the future, he should expect a more hostile Legislature if this is the path he wishes to take.” Mullet was among a group of Senate Democrats who ultimately supported the LCFS bill on the condition that certain provisions added in the Senate were preserved, including the transportation package mandate.
Inslee received similar criticism from Sen. Andy Billig (D-3), who wrote in a statement that “the governor has attempted to create a power for his office that simply does not exist. What’s worse, this is the second time in recent years this governor has attempted to invent such a power. He lost in court then. He will lose again. Make no mistake, the Legislature will use every power at its disposal to push back and preserve the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches as prescribed by the Washington State Constitution.”
House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-4) noted in a statement that “it’s good to see that Democratic legislative leaders are again threatening to go to court and hold the governor accountable. We should all join together to send a strong message about the governor’s emergency powers, too.”
In addition to vetoing portions of the 2019 transportation budget, Inslee also rankled legislators by vetoing a business and occupation (B&O) tax reduction for manufacturing that was included in the 2017-19 operating budget.