Washington’s lawmakers have reached a tentative agreement on a 2017-19 state operating budget, according the office of Gov. Jay Inslee. The deal should allow Washington to avoid a state government shutdown.
OLYMPIA — Less than 72 hours from a partial government shutdown, Washington lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee announced a tentative deal on a 2017-19 state operating budget.
But legislators Wednesday wouldn’t discuss what the agreement contains.
In separate impromptu news conferences, Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan and GOP Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler each said that details won’t be publicly available until Thursday.
That would leave the public with less than two days to review a budget expected to exceed $41 billion and a plan that officials hope will resolve the long-running saga of court-ordered K-12 education funding.
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Democratic and Republican lawmakers are set to get briefed on the deal Thursday morning, according to Sullivan and Schoesler.
Both legislative leaders said they are confident the deal will avoid a shutdown. Legislators must vote — and Inslee must sign — a budget by the end of Friday to replace the $38.2 billion, two-year operating budget approved in 2015.
Yet, with a deal announced later than any other in recent memory, officials were still preparing for the worst.
Even with Wednesday’s announcement, “State agencies have been instructed by OFM to continue executing contingency plans for operations in the event the budgets are not enacted by midnight June 30,” according to the Office of Financial Management’s website.
Both Sullivan and Schoesler said they believe the K-12 funding part of the deal will satisfy the state Supreme Court’s 2012 education-funding order known as the McCleary decision.
Justices ruled that Washington was violating its own constitution by underfunding the state school system, and then held the state in contempt for a lack of progress in satisfying the court order.
Sullivan said the deal will not include a referendum vote on the November election ballot, something Republicans had included in their initial McCleary plan.
Neither Schoesler nor Sullivan would provide details as to the overall spending level, what sorts of tax changes the deal contains, or how it would affect school districts.
In an email to her colleagues, Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson acknowledged that everyone is anxious to see the detail, but said that budget negotiators and staff needed rest after their all-night negotiations.
“Additionally, remember that our nonpartisan staff are now in full production and need to time to finalize the bills and the documents,” she wrote.
News of a deal came on a day considered to be the “drop-dead” deadline for a state budget agreement to be printed up, reviewed and passed out of the Legislature by Friday night.
Legislators worked through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning on the final pieces of the budget, which funds schools, parks, prisons and other services.
Wednesday morning, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island and one of the Democratic negotiators, sent a tweet indicating lawmakers could have a deal.
The social-media post featured a photo of the senator with another negotiator, Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes.
The two, standing in front of the Capitol building, held sheafs of paper, and were all smiles.
“20 hrs straight budget negotiations from Tues 10AM & just ending to make sure we fund schools + avoid gov shutdown!” Ranker wrote.
Around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Ranker, Lytton and other key Democratic budget negotiators could be seen through the windows of a ground-floor room in a legislative office building on the Capitol campus.
“I’m extremely confident we’re not going to have a shutdown,” Ranker said through the window.
Shortly after that, Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee and one of the GOP negotiators working on education funding, could be seen joining the Democrats inside.
Lawmakers in recent years have never inched this close to the prospect of a shutdown.
Once a deal is made public, legislators and citizens will have little time to review the details.
Legislative staff and lawmakers will be up against the wire to identify and correct any small — or big — errors found in the budget bill, which is hundreds of pages long.
With education-funding negotiations since March taking place in secret, there will be little time to assess how a solution affects each of the state’s 295 school districts.
That work has dominated this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers are hoping their efforts finally resolve the McCleary decision.
Currently, school districts use local property-tax levies to cover a chunk of those costs.
Education officials are eagerly waiting to see what lawmakers have — or haven’t — gotten done.
Stephen Nielsen, deputy superintendent for Seattle Public Schools, said he and his staff have asked lawmakers for a peek at what they’re considering as part of a final McCleary fix and 2017-19 budget.
“Send us some of detail of what you’re thinking about,” Nielsen said Tuesday.
“We’re on the ground, and we know what’s there. Give us at least some clues because we can help you be successful,” Nielsen added. “So far we haven’t seen that.”
Because local school districts are not state agencies — and most schools are on summer break now — any potential government shutdown won’t have an immediate impact on district operations.
State education officials, however, already sent a warning to districts last week that the budget impasse in Olympia will force a delay in about $23 million in state payments for special education, student transportation and more.
“They’ve already done their damage to us,” Nielsen said of the Legislature.
“We could live off the cash that we have until we run out,” he added. But, “If we go for a couple of weeks, then we start going, ‘Hm. We need to save our cash for essential services.’ ”
Furloughs could be on the table if lawmakers can’t reach a deal, Nielsen said.
The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is expected to conduct a quick analysis of any education-funding deal that gets announced.
But the office probably won’t be able to complete an in-depth analysis of any agreement before lawmakers vote on it, according to a spokesman for the office.