The state on Monday sent out shutdown notices to 4,000 contractors — the latest sign our political system is lurching from one manufactured crisis to another. Just like that other Washington.
Lyle Romer is technically a state contractor. But that bland title obscures that his actual work is do or die.
“Our people can’t not show up for work,” Romer says. “It’s potentially a life or death situation.”
So Romer was more than a little stunned to get a letter Monday from the state warning him that in two weeks his contract will be terminated if state lawmakers haven’t agreed on a budget.
Romer’s small agency in Kent, Total Living Concept, has for 33 years provided 24-hour-a-day help for people with cerebral palsy, autism or other severe disabilities. The operation is funded in part by the state.
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“Many of them are people who can’t eat on their own, can’t take a bath, can’t get dressed,” he says.
Yet on Monday the state Department of Commerce sent him a letter warning that if the Legislature doesn’t resolve its budget stalemate, then it will be forced to “terminate your contract at midnight on June 30, 2015, if the budgets listed above have not been enacted into law.”
“We’ve basically been in a low-level state of panic around here,” Romer said.
When I called, the state insisted it isn’t intending to cut off services to the severely disabled. Even in the event of a government shutdown, services deemed absolutely essential are supposed to continue. Things like prisons and Western State Hospital can’t just close up shop. Paying for in-home aid to Romer’s patients is supposed to be included in that protected list, according to Penny Thomas of the state Department of Commerce.
But in 126 years of being a state, we’ve never had a government shutdown. So clearly the state is ironing out the kinks.
What happened is on Monday the state sent out termination-warning letters to all 4,000 state contractors — whether their work is essential or not.
“We had to blast everything out to comply with deadlines in their contracts,” Thomas said. “We didn’t have time to parse out what contracts might be exempt.”
The plan, as the state gets closer to a possible shutdown, is to call those who may be allowed to continue.
“We’re obviously still hopeful the Legislature comes to a resolution before then,” Thomas said.
This is no way to run a garage sale, let alone a government. As a reporter I covered Congress and the federal government for four years. It’s not a compliment when I say our Washington is acting like that other Washington more all the time.
Congress’ special talent is the manufactured crisis — pushing the government to the edge of some fiscal cliff solely due to political bullheadedness.
In 2013 it was Republicans throwing yet another tantrum over the health-care law that caused a pointless, 16-day nationwide government shutdown.
As inexcusable as that was, at least Congress was fighting over big stuff, sweeping changes of the kind that come along only every 25 years or so.
Here, despite clear ideological differences, the two sides aren’t far apart on the general fund budget. Both sides spend healthily on K-12 schools and higher education. The difference at this point is only a few hundred million — about 1 percent in a $38 billion two-year spending plan.
A shutdown over that would be more pigheaded than what Congress did. The small gap could be bridged easily by closing some tax loopholes (or by a capital-gains tax, though that appears dead for this session). Obstinance about no-new-taxes-ever is holding up the obvious compromise.
Romer, who is just trying to help disabled people get out of bed, said it’s a sorry way for a state as healthy as ours to behave.
“It’s not like we’re a poor state,” he said. “But we’re acting like it.”