OLYMPIA – Lawmakers closed out their regular session without passing an update to the state operating budget and started up a special session in the span of about 30 minutes Thursday night.
Less than an hour later, Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed 27 bills, making good on a threat to take a red pen to legislation if they needed to go into overtime to agree to a supplemental budget.
“Legislators have one fundamental task that they are required to do every session,” Inslee told reporters after releasing the list of bills he had killed rather than signing them into law. That task is to adopt a budget, he said.
This year, it’s a supplemental budget, or revision of the two-year spending plan they approved last year just hours before the state’s fiscal year ended. The Senate and House of Representatives have significantly different proposals on how much to spend on state programs for schools, mental health and homelessness and where to get extra money to pay for that.
That supplemental budget involved “relatively minor adjustments and a very small number of urgent issues,” Inslee said. It should have been “relatively light lifting” compared to previous years.
Lawmakers have needed to extend their regular session with at least one overtime session in six of the last seven years. “You don’t like to see habits become perpetuated,” Inslee said.
On Monday, Inslee said he would veto bills if a budget deal was not reached by midnight Thursday. Because of a flurry of legislative action last week, he had 37 bills on his desk that were going to become law, even without his signature, at that time.
He signed 10, which he said were important for public health and safety, or law enforcement. They include laws on human trafficking, mortgage lending fraud, luring minors and National Guard employment rights.
His veto messages on the other 27 said each was “worthy” but “until a budget agreement is reached, I cannot support this bill.” They include proposals on pharmacy assistants, marijuana research licenses, hemp growing, cultural foods, local government treasuries and wholesale auto dealer licenses.
“None of these bills was important as the budget,” he told reporters. Lawmakers could try to override the vetoes but Inslee said he hoped they would concentrate instead on passing a budget.
Under state law, they’ll have up to 30 days in the special session to find a budget compromise. Inslee said he would like them to be focused solely on passing a budget, although he can’t limit them to that. Even if they settle on a budget compromise in a few days, which the governor said is possible, and pass it soon after, they could remain in Olympia to pass new versions of the vetoed bills, which would only require simple majorities, or try overrides, which require two-thirds majorities in both houses.