Gov. Jay Inslee presided over the death of 27 noncontroversial bills March 10, vetoing them without the press or the bills’ sponsors present. In a 10:30 p.m. news conference, he noted it was the biggest single spree of vetoes in recent history.
The governor insists he was making a point about the Legislature not finishing its budget business within the 60-day special session. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle shrugged at the ineffectual and inconvenient move. All 27 bills passed with at least a two-thirds margin, which means Inslee’s vetoes could — and should — be reversed in what might extend the special session by a day.
One of the vetoed bills, which passed without a single no vote, granted the sponsors of people in drug or alcohol recovery immunity from testifying in a divorce case. Another could have directed $72 million in unused bond capacity for affordable housing.
The governor’s stunt aside, lawmakers in both parties should stand firm on hewing to the four-year balanced budget law.
On one level, Inslee could be lashing out against the GOP-led Senate’s election-year rebuke of his management. Republican senators fired his transportation director and hauled his prison agency staff in for questioning.
On another level, Inslee is trying to assert his executive power at a key moment in state history. The state badly needs leadership to comply with the next phase of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, which requires a messy and politically difficult rewrite of school-district levy authority.
Maybe this veto spree signals re-engagement by a governor who is widely seen in Olympia as too aloof in the legislative process. If so, good.
But Inslee picked an odd time. Why kill 27 relatively minor bills to force a small supplemental budget agreement this year when he could have used this tool last year when the Legislature went into triple overtime over a $38 billion, two-year budget? Why didn’t he wield another big executive power — to call a special session — when the Supreme Court held the Legislature in contempt over McCleary last summer?
Meanwhile, legislators all knew from the start of the session they were required to produce a budget that balances over four years. The discipline this imposes is especially important now, as economic growth appears likely to slow in coming years.
The requirement of a four-year balanced budget was made law in 2012, though with a gaping loophole for future McCleary-related education costs.
Lawmakers need to get this budget done, do it right, spend an extra day in special session to reverse Inslee’s vetoes and go home.
They need to rest up for the real battle royale — over education funding — that will culminate in next year’s session.