Checks and balances in government are relevant today

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Separation of powers provides the checks and balances that make the U.S. government, as well as state governments that follow its model, the most responsive to the will of the people in the world.

No, federal and state governments aren’t perfect, but when the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government are reminded to stay in their lanes, the result is generally good government.

A good example of this occurred last week in Olympia when a Thurston County Superior Court ruled that Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2019 vetoes of provisions in the state’s two-year transportation budget exceeded his constitutional authority.

Now, to be clear, the specific areas of the transportation budget are not, in themselves, a huge issue — at least to us.

This is a matter of principle. The governor must stay within the bounds of the authority granted to the office by the state constitution. In this case, Judge Carol Murphy ruled that Inslee’s vetoes of lines within the transportation budget were outside of his veto power.

The state constitution limits the governor’s veto authority to entire bills, sections of bills and appropriation items.

Inslee vetoed six single-sentence provisions relating to public transportation grants. The vetoed sections did not align with green transportation adoption measures supported by the governor.

The House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats, worked out that language with the Republican minority. It is not the place of the governor to usurp that authority simply because he disagrees with those few lines.

The governor, a Democrat, should have that discussion with legislators before the budget was approved by both houses of the Legislature.

Since Inslee’s veto was less than an entire section of the budget, the question at hand was whether to defer to the Legislature’s original structuring of sections in the bill. The Legislature is generally entitled to deference in these matters. That’s what Murphy did in her ruling.

“It is a rare day that this court has the privilege of hearing a case concerning each of the three branches of government, which includes the court’s role in resolving this dispute and the separation of those powers,” Murphy wrote. “In a time of great uncertainty in our country and in our community during this pandemic, this case assures us that disputes regarding the constitutional roles of our three branches of government and the system of checks and balances are quite relevant today.”

Indeed they are.