OLYMPIA — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has vetoed new spending totaling $235 million from the budget passed by lawmakers last month, including money for Washington State University to study soil health and to help farmers find alternatives to the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Anticipating a decline in tax revenue because of the coronavirus, the governor also vetoed increased funding for conservation districts to advise landowners and for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to build fences to keep elk away from farms and schools in Skagit County in northwest Washington.
In all, the governor canceled 147 new expenditures. The vetoes did not touch current government programs. After the vetoes, state spending from the general fund will still increase by about $600 million on July 1. The state's two-year operating budget is approximately $53 billion.
"Under normal circumstances, I would not veto bills and budget items that are good policy and smart investments for the state," Inslee said April 3.
Lawmakers wrote the budget based on revenue projections in February, prior to Inslee ordering businesses deemed nonessential to close to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order is scheduled to stay in place until at least May 4.
The state will update revenue projections June 17.
Inslee said the state has $3 billion reserve to fall back on, but did not rule out seeking tax increases to make up the expected budget shortfall.
"We've learned we can't, even in difficult times, cut essential services that then damage us in the future," he said.
The canceled new spending including $50 million for a climate-change account. Lawmakers planned to tap the fund for yet-to-be-determined projects.
The vetoed spending also included:
• $788,000 for a soil health initiative at WSU. The school planned to catalog soils in the state and test conservation measures.
• $332,000 in new funding to conservation districts to advise landowners.
• $300,000 to fence elk off in Skagit County. The Concrete School District was first in line for new fences around ball fields.
• $300,000 to the Recreation and Conservation Office to hire a facilitator and develop a common plan to manage and restore state-owned lands.
• $280,000 to WSU to find alternatives to chlorpyrifos.
• $167,000 to the agriculture department to develop a pilot program to reimburse farmers for buying compost.
• $150,000 for the agriculture department to negotiate with the USDA an agreement to conduct meat and poultry inspections.
• $111,000 to the Department of Health to distribute at least $32 to people on welfare to spend on fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.