OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee exceeded his constitutional authority when he vetoed lines inside a 2019 transportation bill, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled.

Wednesday’s decision by the court appears to pave the way for another lawsuit by the Legislature against Inslee’s more recent controversial veto.

In that instance, Inslee signed into law legislation implementing clean-fuels standards this spring. But he vetoed a part requiring a new statewide transportation-funding package for the climate legislation to come into effect.

In a statement Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he was “certainly pleased” with the court order.

“Checks and balances are essential to a healthy democracy and today’s ruling helps further define the governor’s constitutional limits,” Billig said in prepared remarks.

“As previously stated, we plan to move forward with litigation over the governor’s veto actions earlier this year on legislation to implement clean-fuels standards,” he said. “We are still working to finalize the timing of our court filing.”

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Wednesday’s ruling stretches back to 2019, when the governor signed a two-year statewide transportation budget — and vetoed lines inside sections of that legislation.

The state constitution limits a governor’s veto powers to complete bills, sections of bills or appropriation items — also known as spending — inside those bills.

Prior rulings have established that a governor can veto subsections of appropriation items, if the Legislature somehow “impermissibly attempted to circumvent” that veto authority, according to Wednesday’s ruling.

In 2019, Inslee vetoed lines in the bill to prohibit state transportation officials from considering different types of fuel as factors in selecting grantees for some programs being administered.

But in their 7-2 decision, the justices upheld a lower-court ruling that found Inslee went beyond his constitutional powers.

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“We hold that the Washington Legislature enacted the fuel type condition
pursuant to its constitutional authority to appropriate funds and to control the expenditure of those funds,” wrote Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud in the opinion. “Governor Inslee exceeded his article III, section 12 veto power by striking the fuel type condition, which formed only one part of each appropriation item in which it appeared.”

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“Further, the fuel type condition does not constitute substantive law smuggled into a budget bill in violation of article II, section 19; it is a valid legislative limit on an executive agency’s expenditure of appropriated funds,” the order continued.

In oral arguments before the court in June, Inslee’s attorneys argued that the vetoes were allowable for targeting appropriation items. They have also called the vetoes needed to comply with other state statutes to combat climate change with moves like switching transportation fuels over to electricity or biofuels.

In an email Wednesday evening, Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee wrote that, “We are disappointed in the ruling and disagree with the majority opinion.”