By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — Layoff notices are going out to thousands of state workers Monday as lawmakers’ inability to reach agreement on a new budget pushes the state perilously close to a partial shutdown next week
A budget must be passed and signed by Gov. Jay Inslee by the end of the month to avert a shutdown July 1 when the new fiscal year begins.
Democratic and Republican leaders said they are swapping offers and closing in on a deal to ensure an unprecedented powering down of state government does not occur.
“We’re very, very close. Everybody knows it,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish. “Everybody is on standby knowing they will be working around the clock as soon as the deal is made.”
On Sunday, as negotiations continued, the House and Senate began voting on components of an eventual spending plan including measures on funding state parks and reducing costs in the Department of Corrections.
But absent an agreement, many of the state’s employees should expect to receive a notice telling them to not come to work starting July 1 unless a budget is in place.
Overall, 34 agencies would likely cease operations and hundreds of programs and services scaled back or suspended in the event of a shutdown, according to an analysis prepared by the governor’s office.
A spokeswoman for Inslee said the governor is confident layoffs won’t take place.
“Getting that notice is obviously going to be alarming for a lot of people and he wants to reassure everybody that budget talks are really close and hopefully in the next couple days we’ll have an agreement,” said spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
Only once before, in 1991, did Washington lawmakers come this close to forcing a shutdown. That year the House and Senate did not approve a budget until early June 30. Gov. Booth Gardner signed it and had it filed at 11:58 p.m.
This year the two chambers are struggling mightily to settle differences on how to erase a projected $1 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget and, at the same time, pump as much as $1 billion more into public schools in response to a Supreme Court decision.
Talks between the Democratic-controlled House and the Senate, which is run by a coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats, began in the regular session and continued without success through one monthlong special session.
Now, nearly half-way through a second overtime, the points of contention are decreasing and the deadlock seems less about how much to spend and more about how to spend it.
“I think you have some fundamental differences and philosophical differences between the (House and Senate) and it’s narrowed down to pennies on the dollar,” Kristiansen said.
As of Sunday, the two chambers disagreed on where to put money in public schools with the House preferring to put more dollars into smaller class sizes and all-day kindergarten and the Senate desiring to pick up the full tab for student transportation, materials, supplies and operating costs.
There’s also disagreement on funding for higher education with the Senate pushing for no increases in tuition and the House reportedly wanting to give community colleges and universities the power to decide the matter.
And House Democrats would like to raise revenue from closing a couple tax exemptions while the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus isn’t giving up on further reforms of the worker compensation system.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, the Senate majority leader and one of two Democrats in the ruling coalition, summed it up as his caucus pushing to spend $1 billion on basic education and the House Democrats wanting to spend more on social services.
To which Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the lead negotiator on the House budget, responded with this summation: “They would like to cut existing human service programs and cut existing health care for state employees in order to hit an arbitrary numerical target which they have.”
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org