OLYMPIA, Wash. – State agencies could be asked this week to start preparing for a government shutdown next month, in case lawmakers do not reach a budget deal by July 1, the governor’s office said Sunday.
Tuesday is the final day of a 30-day special session, which has failed to produce a budget agreement. A second special session will likely start Wednesday if that deadline passes.
At best, there is cautious optimism from lawmakers about reaching a deal by Tuesday.
“It’s very difficult, but I’ve always been an optimist,” said Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler.
“It’s pretty unlikely that we’re going to get done,” said David Schumacher, Governor Inslee’s budget director. ‘I’m not very optimistic.”
The Democratic-controlled House is pushing new ways to raise revenue, something the Senate opposes. Meantime, the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and two Democrats, is pushing for policy reforms.
The Senate approved three policy reforms Sunday, including changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system, a bill to cap non-educational spending and a measure that gives principals veto power over which teachers are assigned to their schools. The Senate coalition believes those reforms will save the state money.
“Business as usual helped create this deficit in Olympia,” Schoesler said. “We want to change business as usual to a bright future.”
Two of those reforms would need to be approved through a public statewide vote.
But, Democrats are hesitant to approve the policy reforms. They want to focus on the budget.
“We are close on the budget,” said Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker. “But, the Republicans have put forward some reform bills that our caucus is not supportive of, that more importantly won’t get out of the House and most likely would not be signed by the governor.”
Ranker fears the July 1 deadline is inching too close.
“The idea of a government shutdown in Washington state is uncharted territory,” he said. “We have not gone here before, we don’t know what it will look like, but we do know the situation will be dire.”
Republicans in the Senate feel they have done their part.
“Now it’s up to the House,” said Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry.
Outside of the Capitol, a group played volleyball in the grass.
“We’re probably having more fun,” player Rick Arnold quipped.
But he knows the stakes are high.
“It would be nice if they got it all done by Tuesday because I’ve got a lot of state-employee friends who are going, ‘Gee, I hope we get paid in the summer.’”