The state Office of Financial Management has directed several state agencies to update their contingency plans in case a budget showdown sparks a partial government shutdown.
OLYMPIA — State officials are taking to heart the adage about planning for the worst while hoping for the best.
The state Office of Financial Management (OFM) earlier this month directed several state agencies to update their contingency plans in case a budget showdown at the Legislature sparks a partial government shutdown.
The directive came in a March 4 letter telling agencies to update plans made in 2013 on how many employees would be needed to keep certain programs operating, including for public safety. Among others, the letter was sent to the departments of Corrections, Transportation, Military, Revenue, Veterans Affairs, and Social and Health Services.
Similar instructions went out in mid-June 2013, according to Ralph Thomas, OFM spokesman, as lawmakers scrambled to reach a budget compromise before the fiscal year began July 1.
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Though he called a government shutdown “very unlikely,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday any last-minute preparations should be avoided.
“It’s good government to try to reduce the havoc of even having to get ready for it,” said Inslee.
House Minority Leader Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, seemed to agree.
“At least we’re talking about this a lot earlier on,” Kristiansen said Tuesday. “And getting our state agencies to at least become prepared as to where their priorities and reductions in expenditures would be.”
While lawmakers moved quickly this session to approve a supplemental budget, Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over what spending to include in the 2015-17 budget and how to pay for it.
Lawmakers have been held in contempt by the state Supreme Court for not making enough progress to fully fund K-12 education per the court’s McCleary decision. Funding that could cost up to $1.3 billion for the 2015-17 budget cycle, according to estimates by Inslee and Democrats, who argue that new revenue will be needed.
Voters passed Initiative 1351 to reduce class sizes without specifying how to pay for it; the measure is projected to cost $2 billion or more through 2017. And cost-of-living raises for state employees in contracts that have been negotiated or arbitrated would cost $440 million.
Meanwhile, Democrats, who control the House, and Republicans, who control the Senate, are jockeying for negotiating leverage on the budget and a $15 billion transportation package recently passed by the Senate.
Democratic lawmakers have said they’ll only take up the transportation package after McCleary funding is resolved. This week, Republicans began saying they won’t consider any budget by Democrats as complete unless it comes with separate bills necessary to raise revenue.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, described the OFM letter as “fear mongering.”
Schoesler cited the fact that lawmakers are getting an earlier start on budget writing after a state revenue forecast this year was moved up to February from March.
“We’ve got over a month to go,” said Schoesler.
Thomas, the OFM spokesman, however, noted that the letter was sent weeks ago, with no public fanfare.
“We just don’t want to make a big deal of this,” he said.