OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington lawmakers are in an increasingly familiar place this year: in a third special session, racing to avoid a partial shutdown of state government because they’ve spent months unable to reach agreement on a new two-year state budget.
They’ve been here before. In both 2013 and 2015, budgets weren’t signed by the governor until June 30, hours before a shutdown was set to occur. Even though a shutdown was ultimately avoided both of those years, state agencies are having to go through the motions of preparation once again, and on Thursday, temporary layoff notices went out to nearly 32,000 state employees.
“This has become the new normal and there should be nothing normal about three special sessions to do the most important job that we’re sent here to do,” Sen. Joe Fain, the Republican floor leader, said shortly after adjourning a second 30-day special session on Wednesday.
The third special session began moments later, called by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who was equally frustrated. He said he would veto a temporary 30-day budget, an idea that has been floated by some lawmakers who have expressed concern of what to do if they run out of time before the end of this month.
“They’ve had months to do this,” Inslee said. “I as governor have got to crack the whip here to make sure that they don’t punt here. They’ve been punting for too many months.”
Adding to the challenge of finding consensus between the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-controlled House is writing a state operating budget that also satisfies a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding.
The state has been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate. Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies. The Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House have disagreed on several areas, including whether or not new taxes are needed.
Inslee held a conference call with lawmakers Thursday to answer any questions related to preparations for a shutdown.
“This uncertainty is hard on everyone,” he said.
If a budget isn’t signed into law by midnight June 30, a partial government shutdown begins July 1. According to the Office of Financial Management, more than two dozen agencies — including the Department of Corrections and Washington State Patrol — would face a partial shutdown, while 16 agencies would face a complete shutdown. Among those facing complete shutdown include the state parks, where nearly 11,000 paid camping and overnight reservations for the first week of July would be canceled.
Here are some other impacts:
—Community supervision for 18,000 offenders on probation would cease, except for out-of-state offenders supervised under an interstate compact and civilly committed sexually violent predators.
—There will be no forensic scientists at the Washington State Patrol to process DNA samples, and patrol staff will not be available to process and analyze drug case.
—More than 50,000 elderly residents will stop receiving meal services under a program that is run out of the state’s Department of Social and Health Services.
—About 31,000 low-income, working families will lose child care payment assistance.
—The Washington State Lottery will be shut down until a budget is in place. According to OFM, the state loses about $1.8 million in sales and more than $460,000 in revenue every day the lottery is shut down.