They insist a government shutdown is unlikely, but state officials have drawn up plans including park closures and less monitoring of ex-prisoners in case bickering legislators fail to reach a budget agreement by June 30.
Campers would find summer plans spoiled by state parks closures. Horse racing at Emerald Downs would be halted. And prison officials would stop keeping tabs on thousands of former inmates.
They say it probably won’t come to pass, but state officials nonetheless have drawn up plans for a partial government shutdown if bickering state legislators can’t agree on a budget by the end of June.
After failing to finish its work in the 105-day regular session and a just-concluded 30-day special session, the Legislature began a second special session Friday.
Lawmakers now face a deadline with teeth, as state agencies will lose authority to pay workers and continue operations if a budget is not enacted by June 30.
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The state Office of Financial Management warned public-employee unions Friday that tens of thousands of workers face temporary layoffs in July if no budget deal is reached. That notice was a contractual requirement, an OFM spokesman said, not a signal that a shutdown is likely.
Two years ago, the Legislature nearly blew its budget deadline, leading to detailed planning for what a shutdown would look like.
Gov. Jay Inslee says he doesn’t want a repeat of that, and he called Republican and Democratic budget negotiators into daily talks in his office beginning Monday until they’re finished. He said both sides should move “to the middle” and he waved off any notion that a shutdown is imminent.
“Listen, I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” Inslee told reporters last week. “ I have every confidence the legislators are going to produce a bipartisan budget fairly shortly. So I don’t want to think about the consequences of failure.”
Still, dozens of state agencies have submitted contingency plans in case of a summer budget stalemate.
Those plans, available on the OFM website, show agencies would furlough nonessential employees while maintaining some vital public-safety and other operations.
The plans vary widely by agency. Some would lock their doors and send all employees home. The State Parks and Recreation Commission says it would have to close all state parks. The state Horse Racing Commission also would entirely close, leading to the suspension of Emerald Downs races.
Larger agencies would work to keep some crucial operations going, but would cut back others. The Department of Corrections, for example, has no plans to close prisons and let inmates loose en masse.
But prison officials say they would halt community supervision of most ex-inmates. And they’d release offenders held in local or tribal jails for violating conditions of their release.
“I sincerely hope these plans do not have to be put into action, but we stand ready to do so if necessary,” Corrections Secretary Bernard Warner wrote in a memo outlining the plans.
State universities and community colleges would face a lesser hit because they can continue operating by tapping nonstate funds — at least for a short while. However, without an operating or capital budget, they’d have to suspend construction projects and would be unable to award state-need grants to help lower-income families with tuition.
Because lawmakers did finish one budget — passing a maintenance-level transportation budget — the state Department of Transportation would be unaffected.
On the more difficult two-year operating budget, negotiators have moved closer, but some large differences remain — such as whether tax increases are needed. The growing economy has given lawmakers more than $3 billion in new revenue from existing taxes for the 2015-17 budget, compared with the previous two years.
In March, Democrats proposed $1.5 billion in higher taxes, including a new capital-gains tax on the wealthiest taxpayers — to help fund their $38.8 billion budget. They say the extra money is needed to comply with the Supreme Court’s McCleary order demanding better funding of schools, without cutting social services or forgoing pay raises for teachers and state employees.
But Republicans have stuck to a no-new-taxes mantra all year, and they have pointed to new economic forecasts last week showing the state has $400 million more to spend than previously believed.
While insisting they want to get their work done and avoid a government shutdown, each party has accused the other of pushing the state toward the precipice.
Republicans — who polls show have received the bulk of the political blame for government shutdowns at the national level — have for weeks sought to shield themselves when it comes to the prospects of a state shutdown.
“If it comes to that, this one’s not on us,” state Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, said in a statement last month. She and other Republicans have accused Democrats of a singular obsession with tax increases.
But Democrats and their allies say the GOP has been the culprit by refusing to negotiate over revenue and pushing a proposal that ties pay raises to opening up closed-door collective-bargaining sessions to the public.
“This is very serious for the citizens of the state who are not going to receive services and whose safety will be put in jeopardy because of what the Senate Republicans have done,” Sue Henricksen, president of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said in a statement Friday.