State agencies prep for ‘unlikely’ government shutdown

OLYMPIA — State agencies are beginning to inform workers and contractors of what to expect if a partial shutdown of government occurs July 1.

Lawmakers can prevent the fiscal emergency by approving a new two-year budget and getting it signed by Gov. Jay Inslee by the end of the month.

But without an agreement between the Republican-led Senate and Democrat-controlled House, state agencies are preparing for a fiscal emergency for the third time in five years.

Contingency plans are drawn up and posted online. These reveal what functions, if any, can continue if there is no budget.

Contractors have been or will be getting letters warning that their state contracts could be suspended in a shutdown. Roughly 62,000 state government workers have received notice of a potential layoff. Absent a deal, letters will be sent around June 23 to about 26,000 who would be temporarily laid off.

“It is exasperating to watch the process unfold again,” said Allyson Brooks, director of the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. “Instead of carrying out our regular duties, we must shift our time and energies to this.”

Not every state agency will shutter its doors.

The Washington State Ferries and the Washington State Patrol are mostly unaffected because each is funded with money in the 2017-19 transportation budget lawmakers passed in regular session in April.

State prisons would stay in operation, too. But they won’t take in any new inmates, according to their contingency plan. And thousands of community corrections officers will be partially or entirely idled resulting in less supervision of convicted criminals.

State parks would be closed —right at the start of a long four-day holiday weekend.

Virginia Painter, the agency’s communications director, said decisions will be made this week on when to let those with state park reservations know they may face a change of plans. Refunds will be available if the parks are closed, she said.

The state Board of Community and Technical Colleges decided campuses can stay open if they have a way to pay for it. Everett Community College intends to begin its summer session July 3.

“We’re confident that the Legislature will reach a budget agreement by June 30,” EvCC spokeswoman Katherine Schiffner said. “In the unlikely event that doesn’t happen, the college will do everything possible to keep the doors open so students can continue their education summer quarter.”

Edmonds Community College will start summer classes July 5 and keep paying non-instructional, permanent employees through the first three weeks of July.

“We plan to cover our college’s expenses using tuition and limited local funds,” EdCC president Jean Hernandez said in a statement. “It is always hard to make these decisions because on the one hand, we want to be good stewards of our state resources; and at the same time, our students and their education are important to us and to the community.”

There are impacts large and small with every agency.

In the case of the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, a shutdown could have a big short-term effect on thousands of projects around the state.

Each year the agency reviews about 10,000 projects funded or permitted by the state and federal governments. Its role is to determine the potential effect on cultural resources of each project. Work on those projects would be slowed, even halted, until the agency can provide an answer.

“There is a very high probability it is an unwarranted exercise,” Loren Doolittle, the department’s grants manager said of shutdown preparations. “Why in the world are they waiting until the 11th hour and creating this additional workload and cost?”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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