Half of state employees could be off job in shutdown

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The Washington State Capitol

If Washington’s government has to shut down on July 1, roughly 25,000 out of the state’ s approximately 50,000 employees would find themselves suspended from their jobs without pay.

State officials have not yet calculated the budgetary ripple effects from a partial shutdown of the government. Essentially, government workers cannot do anything in the 2015-2017 budget biennium without official legislative appropriations to pay for those tasks. The exception is that many services are constitutionally and legally required to remain functioning under any scenario.

If the Legislature’s Democrats and Republicans cannot pass a 2015-2017 main budget by June 30, the partial shutdown scenario becomes real on July 1. In 2013, the Democrats and Republicans took until June 27 to reach an agreement, rushing the compromise through all the legislative hoops for Gov. Jay Inslee to sign the 2013-2015 budget into law on June 30.

“The governor remains optimistic that there will not be a government shutdown,” Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Thursday prior to a press briefing on the mechanics of a shutdown.

Thursday morning did not seem to reflect that optimism, however, as Democratic and Republican leaders met with Inslee to discuss the latest negotiating stances. That meeting lasted two or three minutes with both sides avoiding reporters afterward.

The most recent public stances of the Republicans and Democrats show the GOP proposing a $37.9 billion two-year budget with lots of borrowing and budget shifts. The Democrats were proposing a $38.4 billion budget bolstered by a 5 percent capital gains tax on Washington’s highest investment earners.

The capital gains tax proposal is a major piece of the impasse. Republicans are sticking with their contention that no new taxes or revenue sources are needed to meet all the state’s obligations. Democrats counter that new revenue is needed top meet the state’s needs, and the capital gains tax is the best option. If the Republicans don’t like a capital gains tax, Democrats have offered to consider other sources of new revenue — an offer that the GOP has refused.

The Democrats also believe the Republicans have underfunded some social services and health necessities, and that the GOP’s plans to borrow from unrelated funds to pay for the main budget constitutes a smoke-and-mirrors game.

Meanwhile this week, Democrats told Republicans that they are suspending negotiations on a $15 billion, 16-year transportation projects package and on a 2015-2017 capital projects budget until the main budget impasse is resolved. However, the two sides passed a 2015-2017 transportation bill, so projects in the near future won’t be stalled by the deadlock over a big longer-term plan.

It is believed in Olympia that the two sides are close to agreements on the long-range transportation pan and a two-year capital projects package. Consequently, those talks are expected to be quickly resolved when the main budget impasse is fixed.

The broad strokes of a partial shutdown are outlined on the Washington Office of Financial Management’s Web site. Warning notices will go to the affected state employees next Tuesday with those on vacation and leave being told this Friday.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8