OLYMPIA — Washington state agencies are working to identify which areas of government will need to cease operations if the Legislature fails to pass a budget over the next 18 days.
Gov. Jay Inslee held a Cabinet meeting Wednesday night to discuss plans for what would happen after June 30, when the current budget cycle comes to an end. While the governor’s aides haven’t concluded which areas would need to shut down, they said potentially thousands of state employees could begin getting notifications about the prospect of temporary layoffs as early as next week.
“If government shuts down, you’re going to feel it. Everybody in the state’s going to feel it,” said Inslee spokesman David Postman. “There’s no way that this is going to be a little thing that won’t be noticed.”
Inslee has tasked agency leaders with identifying which of their services do not require a budget appropriation and which parts are a matter of immediate public safety. The Governor’s Office is looking to make decisions about which areas would be allowed to stay open next week.
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“It’s a very challenging, difficult situation,” said Inslee’s chief of staff, Mary Alice Heuschel.
The whole effort may just be an exercise if the Legislature reaches a deal in coming days. Budget negotiators are squabbling over how to spend government dollars over the next two years and have made little progress toward a resolution.
Lawmakers have already blown past many of their earlier deadlines, failing to complete a budget during a 105-day regular session and a 30-day special session, but the sides still remain far apart.
At the center of the stalemate are disputes over taxes and policy overhauls. The House, controlled by Democrats, has pushed to limit some tax preferences in order to raise more money. Senate leaders, controlled by Republicans and two Democrats, have balked at new revenue, arguing that the government needs to live within its means.
Meanwhile, the Senate is also pushing policy changes, such as the expansion of the use of settlements in the workers’ compensation system and a bill that would limit the growth of non-education spending.
The Legislature has taken its budget talks to the brink before. In 2001, lawmakers finished the budget on June 20.
Former Gov. Gary Locke even drafted an executive order that spelled out which state services should continue in the event of a shutdown.
The order would have continued operating state prisons, public assistance and the Washington State Patrol, and would have furloughed what were deemed nonessential state workers.
However, Locke’s former budget director, Marty Brown, said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure it would have withstood a legal challenge.
Seattle Times staff reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this story.