With lawmakers in limbo over budget, 32,000 state employees to get temporary layoff notices

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The gavel came down Wednesday to mark the beginning of the Legislature's third special session, and nervous state workers expressed concerns to Gov. Jay Inslee soon after.

If lawmakers cannot agree on a state budget in the next nine days, the government will partially shut down starting July 1, a Saturday.

The impact would be vast.

All state parks will close.

More than 50,000 older Washingtonians won’t get meal services and 52,000 kids in low-income families will lose their subsidized child care.
State inspectors won’t be monitoring gas lines and railroads, and state prisons won't be able to accept new inmates.

Those are just some examples.

“It’s a long, long list and it virtually impacts everyone in Washington and it’s unnecessary,” Inslee said Wednesday.

While Washington state has never had a partial government shutdown, the Legislature has taken its budget talks to the brink before, including in 2013 and 2015, with budgets not signed by the governor until June 30 both years.

The Washington Federation of State Employees says various departments have been forced to waste resources getting ready for a possible shutdown, which includes the process of 32,000 workers receiving pink slips starting Thursday.

“They have been gearing up for this. They can’t wait until the last minute, so much time and money has been expended. That money should be spent helping the people of Washington,” Tim Welch of The Washington Federation of State Employees said.

Key lawmakers on both sides say they understand what’s at stake and that they feel optimistic about passing a state budget in time and preventing a government shutdown.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said.

“I want to have a budget as much as the governor,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said.

About 53% of the budget comes down to education and complying with the state Supreme Court’s mandate to fully fund K-12.

“Let’s get 53% of that budget figured out, get out of trouble, and balance the rest,” Schoesler said.

Democrats say they are willing to lower spending and compromise on taxes but Republicans are not budging on raising taxes. Republicans want to change the formula on property taxes, instead raising them in cities and lowering property taxes in many rural areas.

“We understand property taxes will have to be part of the solution but it will require extra revenue outside of that,” Sullivan said.

Republicans say they are encouraged by the economy generating millions more than originally projected.

“A billion in recent forecast growth, hundreds of millions more of other options.”

Both sides know they have to compromise.

“We are narrowing the number of differences,” Sullivan said.

Inslee said at least one Republican floated the idea of approving a short-term, emergency budget to buy lawmakers more time. But Inslee says that is not an option, that he would veto any such strategy.