This editorial originally appeared in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin:
The Legislature and the Governor’s Office, although both are now controlled by Democrats, are two separate branches of government.
Having each branch of government — including the third branch, the judiciary — stay in their constitutionally mandated lane is critical for good government.
Given that, we applaud the action taken Aug. 29 by the Legislature to sue Gov. Jay Inslee for overstepping his authority with a series of one-sentence vetoes in the state transportation budget.
Lawmakers are hinging their lawsuit on a constitutional ban on vetoes of less than a full section of approved legislation.
“By vetoing individual sentences, we believe the governor has exceeded the constitutional power afforded to the executive branch,” Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andy Billig of Spokane said in a written statement. “The checks and balances woven throughout our constitution are essential to a healthy democracy. This lawsuit is one of those checks.”
While we believe the lawsuit was the correct course of action, and courageous as it is not easy to challenge the authority of a governor in the same party, it is far from certain that the Legislature will prevail.
Inslee contends he needed to veto specific sentences because he felt the language was an attempt to indirectly amend an existing statute.
“While my veto authority is generally limited to subsections or appropriation items in an appropriation bill, in this very rare and unusual circumstance I have no choice but to veto a single sentence in several subsections to prevent a constitutional violation and to prevent a forced violation of state law,” Inslee wrote in his May veto message.
This disagreement between the governor and the Legislature seems to be an honest one. It can’t — nor should it — be settled by making political deals. Since the governor took this single-sentence route to veto part of a piece of legislation, and thus establish a precedent, its constitutionally must be clearly decided.
“This is a respectful difference of opinion, and we look forward to forthcoming guidance from our courts,” Inslee said.
So, too, do we.
Members of the House and Senate — the Democratic majority and Republican minority — served the public well in seeking a clear and decisive answer to this matter.