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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

State workers get layoff warnings as budget deadline nears

Kelly Blume, left, and Devan Kelly, of the Spokane Community College facilities and maintenance department, wave to passing motorists at the corner of Green Street and Mission Avenue on Thursday morning in Spokane. They were among 17 employees from the community college participating in 90 statewide Unity Rallies in an effort to stop the state shutdown on July 1. (Dan Pelle)

OLYMPIA – Washington officials insisted Thursday they were confident the Legislature would pass a budget by June 30 and avoid a partial government shutdown, but not confident that would happen before Tuesday, when labor contracts require they notify tens of thousands of state employees of potential temporary layoffs.

“I still think this will not happen,” said David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, who has sat in on many of the meetings between legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee. “I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to let this happen.”

“This” is the prospect of the state starting its next fiscal year on July 1 without an operating budget, which would mean it did not have the legal authority to spend money for many of its programs or to pay some 25,000 employees. It would mean about 30 state agencies would shut down completely, another 25 or so would shut down partially, but some would continue to operate normally.

On Thursday, Schumacher and other state officials explained the steps being taken to prepare for a partial shutdown even though they don’t think it will happen.

That includes mailing out notices today about the potential for temporary layoffs of some state employees who provide services that would be suspended. Primarily, those notices will be mailed to employees who are on leave.

Next Tuesday, one week before the start of the new fiscal year, the remainder of the affected employees would be notified of a potential temporary layoff by email.

State employees held what they called “unity rallies” over the lunch hour calling on legislators to pass a budget.

Nick Brown, legal adviser to Inslee, said the partial suspension of state services would be governed by the constitution and various state and federal laws. Without an appropriation passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, the state generally has no authority to pay out its treasury. A transportation budget that authorizes the state to spend money collected from the gasoline tax and other transportation fees and taxes already has been passed and signed, so programs and personnel it covers, including the State Patrol and the Department of Transportation, aren’t facing furloughs.

The general fund, which is above $37 billion – how far above is a bone of contention in budget talks – covers many other services and programs. Some of the jobs or services in that budget are covered by laws that mean employees would continue to work. For example, corrections officers would remain on duty in the prisons. Eastern State Hospital would remain open. Child Protective Services workers still would investigate cases of abuse or neglect.

Public colleges and universities would remain open because part of their budget comes from tuition.

But many workers in the various departments and agencies would be furloughed. State parks would be closed, even to campers who had reserved campsites.

After state officials briefed reporters on shutdown procedures in the governor’s conference room, the room was cleared for legislative leaders to hold their daily budget negotiations update in the same space. They left after less than 10 minutes without commenting on what progress, if any, had been made.