Washington state agencies are working to identify which areas of government will need to cease operations if the Legislature fails to pass a budget over the next 18 days.
Gov. Jay Inslee held a cabinet meeting Wednesday night to discuss plans for what would happen after June 30, when the current budget cycle comes to an end. While the governor’s aides haven’t concluded which areas would need to shut down, they said potentially thousands of state employees could begin getting notifications about the prospect of temporary layoffs as early as next week.
“If government shuts down, you’re going to feel it. Everybody in the state’s going to feel it,” said Inslee spokesman David Postman. “There’s no way that this is going to be a little thing that won’t be noticed.”
Inslee has tasked agency leaders with identifying which of their services do not require a budget appropriation and which parts are a matter of immediate public safety. The governor’s office is looking to make decisions about which areas would be allowed to stay open next week.
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“It’s a very challenging, difficult situation,” said Inslee’s chief of staff, Mary Alice Heuschel.
The whole effort may just be an exercise if the Legislature finalizes a deal in the coming days. Budget negotiators are squabbling over how to spend government dollars over the next two years and have made little progress toward a resolution in recent weeks.
Lawmakers have already blown past many of their earlier deadlines, failing to complete a budget during a 105-day regular session. Tuesday was the end of a 30-day special session in which the House and Senate made some progress, but the sides still remain far apart.
At the center of the stalemate are disputes over taxes and policy overhauls. The House, controlled by Democrats, has pushed to limit some tax preferences in order to raise more money. Senate leaders, controlled by Republicans and two conservative Democrats, have balked at new revenue, arguing that the government needs to live within its means.
Meanwhile, the Senate is also pushing policy changes, such as the expansion of the use of settlements in the workers’ compensation system and a bill that would limit the growth of non-education spending in future budgets.
The Legislature has taken their budget talks to the brink before. In 2001, lawmakers finished the budget on June 20.