OLYMPIA – The top Senate Democrat accused the chamber’s ruling coalition of driving the state toward a government shutdown by stalling budget negotiations.
Senate Democratic Leader Ed Murray of Seattle said the Legislature is making no progress – and in some ways losing ground – in trying to reach agreement on the 2013-15 operating budget: “Senate Republicans want to close down government on July 1 and send us over a fiscal cliff.”
Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, acknowledged it will be difficult to write and pass a budget by June 11, when the current special session must end. But he said he remains optimistic it can happen with “hard work and good faith.”
“The last thing we want is to drive anything off a cliff,” Schoesler said.
Murray’s comments came after a rare event thus far in the special session: Most senators were present to honor Republican Mike Carrell, who died last week. After an hour of tributes to the longtime legislator from Lakewood, both sides went into caucus meetings and the Senate eventually adjourned for the day without further action.
Monday was the 22nd day of the special session, making next Tuesday the final day in the 30-day overtime session. The logistics of preparing a budget document which accounts for more than $34 billion in spending, and covers hundreds of pages of appropriations for most state programs, means the Legislature is quickly running out of time to draft and pass a budget in the same version in both chambers, even if an agreement is reached, Murray said.
If the Legislature doesn’t pass a budget by next Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee could immediately call another special session. But that would put the start of the state’s fiscal year, July 1, squarely in the middle of that second overtime.
Going past July 1 means the state would be without legal authority to spend money on many non-emergency programs, Murray said. “I don’t see how we avoid a shutdown” of at least some programs like Parks, Licensing, Early Learning and Basic Health, he said, if a budget isn’t passed by then.
The state’s ability to pay principal and interest on its bonds could also be challenged in court, and its bond rating dropped, he said.
Schoesler said his members aren’t eager for a second special session. “I want to see this completed in the (current) special session as much as anyone in the state,” he added.
He refused to discuss budget discussions, but said negotiations were occurring: “We’re still talking. We’re still working.”
Gov. Jay Inslee issued a statement last Friday that he was concerned about the pace of budget negotiations. On Monday, an Inslee spokeswoman said the governor “remains hopeful” a budget will be passed before the end of this special session, but acknowledged that gets less likely as each day goes by.