OLYMPIA — Washington state is now just one week away from a government shutdown.
Legislators from both parties said Sunday they were still searching for a final budget compromise that would avert the temporary layoff of many state workers. Negotiators described ongoing progress but acknowledged that there was a possibility that talks could continue dragging on.
“We’ve got some big pieces that still have to be resolved,” said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
On Monday morning, thousands of state employees will begin receiving notifications that they will be temporarily laid off if there is no budget deal over the next seven days. Republican Rep. Gary Alexander said he expected a deal would come together by the end of the day Monday, with hopes of passing the budget by the middle of the week.
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“I didn’t expect a shutdown from day one, and I don’t expect one now,” Alexander said.
Washington’s current two-year budget comes to a close at the end of June, and the state believes 34 agencies will have to completely cease operations if there is no new spending plan. An additional 24 agencies would face partial shutdowns and 25 would remain open.
Lawmakers have been trying to shape a final budget since the beginning of the year, and they’re now well past a mid-April end of the regular legislative session.
Budget negotiators have declined to discuss the specifics of their disagreements, citing ongoing discussions that involve a constant exchange of proposals. However, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said the biggest lingering question centers on how much money to spend on education.
Tom, a conservative Democrat who leads a Senate majority dominated by Republicans, said his caucus wants specific funding levels for education and higher education while House Democrats are looking to have some of that education money in social-services programs.
Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, the top budget writer in the House, characterized it another way, saying the Senate was wanting to cut existing human services and health-care programs in order to reach some arbitrary goals.
Tom had previously predicted that the Senate would complete its work by Sunday. He expressed optimism about the ongoing budget talks but also expressed disappointment that the talks weren’t moving at a faster pace.
“I think we failed for not getting done today,” Tom said.