Other Views: See You in Court, Governor, Over Infrastructure Vetoes


With long-sought climate change bills finally on Gov. Jay Inslee's desk, he whipped out his veto pen Monday and deleted provisions essential to legislative approval. The action trashed a sensible bargain lawmakers struck to pass the climate bills while upping pressure for long-range upgrades for bridges, transit, ferries and roads — infrastructure Inslee claims to support.

Inslee's decision to shred that shrewd legislative construct diminishes lawmakers' political motivation to pass a transportation package. It also eviscerates the faith his fellow Democrats had that the governor supported the deal-making that built a coalition to pass his environmental bills.

It also bolsters the charges that this governor has made a habit of overreach. Lawmakers won a Thurston County Superior Court ruling against Inslee in 2020 because a previous line-item veto crossed the line into writing legislation. The state Supreme Court takes up the appeal in that case next month.

Now Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane and House Speaker Laurie Jinkins of Tacoma, both Democrats, say they will take him to court again. They are right to do so. This governor needs to get the message not to abuse partial vetoes.

Inslee's Monday editing stunt means the cap-and-trade mechanism to force down carbon emissions in Senate Bill 5126 and the low carbon requirement for gasoline and diesel fuel in House Bill 1091 take effect without requiring the Legislature to approve long-term infrastructure blueprints. But some lawmakers had only supported the climate bills because legislative bargaining had attached them to the transportation package, an agreement now retroactively undone.

"This sets a chilling precedent and poisons the well for all future negotiations on virtually any tough issue," moderate Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, warned in a statement.

Inslee claimed Monday that he is "fully committed to working with legislators to pass a transportation package this year."

If that were true, the governor would not decouple the climate-change bills from a necessary infrastructure project. His veto calls into question his faith he can get a transportation deal done.

Well, which is it, governor? "This year," can you ensure an infrastructure deal happens and actually lead the charge? Or do you distrust a Legislature where your fellow Democrats hold majorities?

In undoing lawmakers' careful bargain, Inslee signals he would rather have his climate legislation in hand than sow good legislative relations for the future. It isn't just the state's highway bridges that are in disrepair. Earnest, involved deal making is essential to good governance.

"We all want to work with him, but he's making it very difficult," Senate Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said in an interview.

Meanwhile, the best hope for the state's much needed transportation package is for the courts to invalidate one or both of Inslee's vetoes. That would keep intact the incentive for lawmakers to advance the transportation package in special session. Lawmakers need to get this deal done, with — or without — leadership from a governor who claims to be "fully committed" but acts otherwise.