With Washington facing a possible state government shutdown, legislators expressed optimism Tuesday about budget talks. But lawmakers in recent budget-writing years had already reached a deal by this point.
OLYMPIA — If optimism were money, the state’s legislative leaders would be swimming in riches.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers Tuesday said that they were optimistic about an impending agreement on court-ordered K-12 education funding and a new state operating budget.
Yet, as of Tuesday evening, no agreement had been announced.
Legislators, meanwhile, don’t appear to be keeping pace with previous budget years in hammering out an agreement.
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The state is days away from a potential state government shutdown and needs a new two-year budget by the end of Friday, when the current budget expires.
Nonetheless, “We’re all incredibly optimistic,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
“We still have some big things to decide, but I think we’re making great progress,” said Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes and chair of the House Finance Committee.
Budget leaders “are expressing optimism that they will be able to reach an agreement” Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday afternoon in remarks at a bill-signing session. Inslee added that he hoped a deal would be “shortly forthcoming.”
The state has already sent 32,000 layoff notices to government workers. State parks are preparing to shut down, and a large swath of government services would close or be limited.
In every budget-writing session in recent memory, lawmakers have announced or voted to approve a deal by now.
In 2015, after all-night bargaining talks, a tentative agreement on the two-year budget was announced in an email sent at about 1:30 a.m. on June 27.
Legislators and Inslee then convened a news conference that afternoon to discuss the deal.
In 2013, lawmakers had already announced, printed and passed an operating budget out of the House and Senate by June 28.
In 2011, legislators had finished by late May.
In 2009, 2007 and 2005, lawmakers had finished their budget work in late April, not even needing the special sessions that have come to be expected.
But as of Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers were still “zeroing in” on an agreed-upon spending level for the budget and education spending, Lytton said.
A big part of this year’s work has been the search for a resolution to the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision, which ruled that Washington was violating the state constitution by underfunding the school system.
A small group of legislators has been negotiating in secret for months over how to satisfy the court’s decision.
The public will have little time to review any budget or K-12 funding agreement before lawmakers vote.
A Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman said the district has not been given a chance to review in advance any K-12 funding plan. And, “it’s not clear if we will,” Kim Schmanke wrote in an email.
David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management, said he expected lawmakers to finish the budget by Friday.
“I feel confident that they can get there from where they are,” Schumacher said.
But he added, “It makes everybody nervous that they’re running it up to the wire.”
Even if legislators finish the operating budget and a McCleary solution by Friday, their work could still spill into July.
Lawmakers have also been discussing a capital-construction budget, a paid family-leave program for private-sector workers and legislation to address rural-water use.
“The other bills could pass Saturday or Sunday, or some other day” in July, Schumacher said.
Legislators and the governor in recent years have poured billions of dollars into K-12 schools to address the court’s order.
But they saved the biggest, most difficult part of McCleary for last: figuring out how the state should pay for teacher and other school-worker salaries.
Currently, school districts use local property-tax levies to cover those costs.
House Democrats earlier this year proposed billions of dollars in new revenue, including a new capital-gains tax and a restructuring of the state business-and-occupation tax.
Republicans put forth a plan that featured what’s known as a property-tax “levy swap,” which would establish a uniform statewide property tax rate to fund schools that would raise property taxes in places like Seattle and Bellevue while lowering them in other school districts.