With lawmakers gridlocked over on a new budget and education funding, Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday called a third special legislative session. Without a new budget, parts of the state government would shut down on July 1.
OLYMPIA — Budget gridlock remains. Education funding is key. Parts of Washington’s state government could shut down.
As Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday called a third overtime legislative session to resolve deadlock between lawmakers, the situation in Olympia played like a familiar movie.
This year’s last-minute staring contest between House Democrats and Senate Republicans resembled similar budget showdowns of 2013 and 2015.
Impact of a state government shutdown
Without a new operating budget, parts of Washington’s state government would shut down July 1. Here are some examples.
Department of Social and Health Services:
• More than 50,000 older residents wouldn’t get meals through delivery services.
• More than 10,000 legal immigrants wouldn’t get state-funded food assistance.
Health Care Authority:
• Customer-service staff would not be available to help either Apple Health clients or Public Employees Benefits Board enrollees.
• Payments would not be made to providers offering services to Apple Health clients and Public Employees Benefits Board enrollees.
Department of Early Learning:
• About 31,000 low-income, working families would lose child-care payment assistance.
• Approximately 5,600 licensed child-care programs wouldn’t be monitored for health and safety regulations.
Department of Corrections:
• Community supervision would be suspended for most of the 18,000 individuals on supervision.
Washington State Patrol:
• Field officers, such as the troopers working highways, would continue working during a shutdown.
• Work on sexual-assault crimes would be halted.
• No staff would be available to answer questions about firearm transfer background checks from the National Instant Background Check System.
Department of Labor and Industries:
• New workers’ compensation claims would be suspended, meaning injured workers would not get L&I benefit checks.
State Parks Department:
• Parks would close and nearly 11,000 paid camping and overnight reservations for the first week of July would be canceled.
Department of Veterans Affairs:
• About 2,000 veterans and family members would be without PTSD counseling.
Source: Office of Financial Management, state Department of Social and Health Services
Without a new state operating budget signed by June 30, much of Washington’s government would shut down July 1. On Thursday, state agencies were expected to begin sending out 32,000 temporary layoff notices to government workers.
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In a news conference announcing the new special session, Inslee stressed the importance of avoiding a shutdown.
State prisons wouldn’t accept new offenders, he said, and 50,000 seniors would lose meal-delivery service. State fish hatcheries might shut down and state campgrounds would close.
Such a shutdown “touches virtually everyone in the state of Washington, and it is totally unnecessary,” Inslee said.
He again batted away the idea of a short-term, 30-day budget to allow for more negotiating time, something he said Senate Republicans have mentioned. The governor said that was not acceptable.
“They cannot continue to kick this can down the road,” Inslee said.
The attitude on the other side of the aisle was somewhat sunnier.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville said Wednesday afternoon that lawmakers are close to an agreement.
“We’ve always said we wanted to finish on time with a deal, and we still remain optimistic,” Schoesler said.
Lawmakers have been deadlocked over how to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary ruling that declared Washington was violating its own Constitution by not adequately funding K-12 schools.
Since 2014, the court has held the state in contempt for failing to make enough progress on education funding. The justices later imposed a fine of $100,000 per day to prompt lawmakers to act.
Lawmakers must also agree on a 2017-19 state operating budget, the blueprint that funds parks, education, prisons, social services and other programs.
The third special session began Wednesday, which was also the last day of the second special session. The 105-day regular session ended in April.
A small group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers has for months been talking behind closed doors, seeking to bridge deep philosophical differences on education funding.
Group members have huddled in a legislative office building to tackle the last big remaining part of the court’s McCleary decision: how the state should fund teacher and other school-worker salaries.
Much of those costs are currently paid by schools through local property taxes.
To fund those expenses and a new state budget, Inslee and House Democrats early on called for more revenue through a series of new and increased taxes.
To kick-start budget talks, Inslee earlier this month took off the table a proposed capital-gains tax favored by Democrats. The governor at the same time reiterated that he would not accept the GOP’s ambitious restructuring of property-tax levies to pay for education.
That plan would raise property taxes in some parts of the state, including Seattle and Bellevue, while cutting them in other places.
With negotiations remaining secret, it’s hard to know what lawmakers are doing, or how close they are to agreement.
Inslee said they are close enough to get the job done.
“The differences in spending and revenue, I believe, are small enough that I see no reason that budget negotiations go on beyond next week,” Inslee said.
He said the McCleary proposals he’s seen so far include “significant improvement in the educational funding of our children.”