Durkan vetoed the soda tax bill; here’s what happens next

Last Friday Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed the ordinance setting new restrictions on how Sweetened Beverage Tax revenues can be spent. Vetoes are incredibly rare in Seattle City Hall, so that sent everyone (including me) scrambling to the City Charter to see what happens next. Yes, we all know in theory how it works, but the details matter.

There are two relevant sections in the City Charter that explain how this process works, once the Council passes a bill.

The first one explains the Mayor’s role (my emphasis added):

BILLS TO BE PRESENTED TO MAYOR: Every bill which shall have passed shall within five days thereafter be presented to the Mayor.

RETURN OF BILLS; VETO: The Mayor shall return such bill to the Council within ten (10) days after receiving it. If he or she signs the bill or returns it unsigned but without disapproval or if the time for returning the bill shall have elapsed without its return, that shall be deemed a favorable action by the Mayor and it shall become an ordinance. If the Mayor disapproves the bill, he or she shall, when so returning it, specify his or her objections thereto in writing. The objections of the Mayor shall be entered at large on the journal of the Council, and published in the City official newspaper.

The bill was passed on July 22, submitted to the Mayor by the City Clerk on the 25th, vetoed by the Mayor on August 2nd and returned to the City Council on the same day.

Here’s the Mayor’s letter specifying her objections as required:

And as requested it’s posted on the Council’s legislative journal site.

Now here’s the part of the City Charter specifying the Council’s role (again, emphasis mine):

RECONSIDERATION OF VETOED BILLS: The Council shall, not less than five days after such publication, and within thirty days after such bill shall have been so returned, reconsider and vote upon the same, and if the same shall, upon such reconsideration, be again passed by the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of all the members, the President of the Council shall certify the fact on the bill, and when so certified the bill shall become an ordinance with like effect as if it had not been disapproved by the Mayor; but if the bill so returned shall fail to receive upon the first vote thereon an affirmative vote of two-thirds of all the members it shall be deemed finally lost. The vote on such reconsideration shall be taken by yeas and nays, and the names of the members voting for or against the same shall be entered in the journal thereof.

Important points:

  • The City Charter says that the Council must wait at least five days after publication of the Mayor’s veto to vote to override the Mayor’s veto, presumably in order to allow for public notice to disseminate and for legislative deliberation to occur.
  • However, the Council must take a vote (it says “shall,” not “may”) no later than 30 days after the bill is returned by the Mayor. It’s not optional, the timeline is strict, and the Council only gets one chance to override the veto.
  • It requires two-thirds of all of the members of the Council to override a Mayoral veto (not two-thirds of a quorum). So that’s six “yes” votes, regardless of how many Council members are present that day.

On the original Council vote, the bill passed by a 7-1 vote; Pacheco voted “no” and Juarez was absent. Juarez hasn’t said how she will vote on the veto override, but since the original passage of the Sweetened Beverage Tax in 2017 she has been the most militant in arguing that the revenues should go toward food programs so she will likely vote “yes.”  Even if she didn’t, that would make the vote 7-2, still more than enough to override the veto.

Council President Harrell has indicated that he will schedule the veto override vote for next Monday, August 12. This is the last scheduled full Council meeting in August, as the Council is in recess for the last two weeks. The next meeting is Tuesday, September 3rd — more than 30 days after the Mayor returned the vetoed bill. So either the vote must be on Monday, or Harrell will need to schedule a special Council meeting later next week for the sole purpose of holding the veto override vote.

But in an additional plot twist, Council member Gonzalez is scheduled to be in Denmark for a workshop next week. That would make the worst-case vote 6-2, but if one Council member called in sick that day the veto override could theoretically fail. Not surprisingly, Gonzalez has indicated that she would like to exercise the Council’s protocol allowing Council members to participate by telephone so that she can cast her vote next Monday — practically ensuring that the veto override will pass by a comfortable margin (and most likely it will be an 8-1 vote).

That concludes this episode of “Arcane City Government Procedures.” We hope you enjoyed the show.


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