OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee’s office advanced plans Thursday to close 34 state agencies including the Department of Early Learning and the state parks system if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by the end of the month.
The state is expected to start sending notices to thousands of workers on Monday to warn of possible layoffs.
“Absent an appropriation by the Legislature, most government operations cannot continue to operate. About two-thirds of all state agencies and boards and commissions will cease operations or be mostly shut down,” said Nicholas Brown, the governor’s general counsel.
However, at the same time the governor’s staff was detailing the effects of a shutdown, budget negotiators in the House and Senate said they were getting closer to a deal.
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“There will absolutely be no shutdown of state government,” vowed Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, after leaving a meeting with Senate budget negotiators, said there was a “good exchange” of budget offers Thursday morning.
“We’re working to get this done as fast as possible,” he said.
Lawmakers have until June 30 to pass a state budget. If they fail to do so, agencies will begin shutting down July 1.
Mary Alice Heuschel, Inslee’s chief of staff, said this wasn’t a scare tactic to spur the Legislature into action.
“This contingency plan is absolutely required. We had to do this work,” she said. “Not doing it would have been irresponsible.”
In addition to offices closing completely, an additional 24 agencies would have partial shutdowns, including the Department of Health, the Department of Licensing and the Department of Revenue.
The governor’s budget office warned that a shutdown, among other things, could force the state to suspend state-only programs such as medical services for the aged, blind and disabled; the kidney disease/dialysis program; and health care for undocumented children.
It also would have to close down the lottery and state parks.
The state Department of Corrections would keep the prisons fully supervised and running but would furlough 3,000 of its 8,000 workers. Family visits and educational programs, among other services, would be suspended.
More important, however, Corrections would have to suspend supervision of 16,000 former inmates at high risk of committing another crime.
Twenty-five agencies would not be shut down. For example, the state Department of Transportation would be unaffected, because it is funded by a separate budget that was passed by the Legislature earlier.
The state’s higher-education system also would remain open, at least in the short term. Pension and Medicaid payments would continue.
Lawmakers are in a second overtime legislative session after adjourning both a regular 105-day session and a 30-day special session without reaching a budget deal.
Budget negotiations picked up earlier this week after new state revenue and caseload projections gave the Legislature an additional $320 million to spend over the next two years.
Lawmakers are expected to work through the weekend to try to complete a deal on a $33 billion-plus budget that would close a large shortfall and put around $1 billion into public schools to meet a state Supreme Court mandate.
This story includes material from The Associated Press.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org