Tuesday morning update: Senate and House leaders said they are close to agreement on the state’s 2017-19 operating budget, and with a “handshake deal” possible by Tuesday afternoon and the full budget ready for printing by Wednesday morning and votes later in the week.
If that schedule holds, they would be on track to pass the budget by Friday, avoiding a partial government shutdown. For more details and updates throughout the day, go to the Spin Control blog.
OLYMPIA – Lawmakers facing the state’s first partial government shutdown by week’s end huddled in offices for secret meetings around the Capitol campus Monday, trying to reach agreements on a series of issues that can be fit into an operating budget certain to top $43 billion.
A source familiar with the most essential negotiation – a new state public school policy that would meet a Washington Supreme Court mandate to improve basic education – said the group involved in those talks had reached an agreement in principle that was being examined line-by-line.
If it passes muster, that education proposal could be announced Tuesday, when members of both chambers have been called back to the capital for the first floor votes in weeks. The cost of the education plan would signal whether the state will need to raise taxes to cover all the changes, and if so, what taxes would be acceptable in a Senate narrowly controlled by Republicans and a House narrowly controlled by Democrats.
Some 32,000 state employees received official notices over the weekend that they would be on a temporary layoff starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday if the two-year operating budget isn’t passed and signed into law by midnight Friday.
The state would have no legal authority to spend money for certain programs or salaries in the new fiscal year. Those employees would stay off the job, without pay, until an operating budget passes.
That pay wouldn’t be made up unless the Legislature added it to an eventual budget deal. Employees who had scheduled the week off as vacation would instead be laid off without pay, and their vacation days available for later. If the layoff goes longer than a week, state employees would be eligible for unemployment compensation.
One of the most noticeable immediate effects of that layoff would be the closure of state parks on the weekend ahead of the July Fourth holiday, the members of the Office of Financial Management told legislators in a conference call last week. Notices have been sent to some 11,000 people holding reservations in state parks that the campgrounds and other facilities could be closed, and offering them a refund.
Among other effects, the OFM listed:
- Some 50,000 people would not receive Meals on Wheels.
- Some 31,000 low-income families would lose child care payments.
- The Department of Corrections would not accept new inmates from counties because of reduced staffing.
- No new workers’ compensation claims would be processed, although existing claims would be paid.
- Many inspections by the state Health and Agriculture departments would be postponed.
The state has several budgets, and some programs and services aren’t paid out of the operating budget. Much of the State Patrol is funded by the transportation budget, which has already passed. So deal or no deal on the operating budget, state troopers will be on duty this weekend.
Public colleges and universities also have tuition as a source of funding, so they wouldn’t be facing immediate layoffs.
Although midnight Friday is the deadline to pass the budget, legislative leaders have said they would need at least two to three days after an agreement is reached on the major areas of spending and taxes to have the budget printed, presented to the rank-and-file members and put to a vote in both chambers.
If this year is typical, they would push it through the Legislature without a public hearing on the many compromises made between versions that passed the Senate and House months ago. The House budget totaled about $44.9 billion and spent $22 billion on public schools; the Senate budget totaled about $43.3 billion with $21.9 billion going for public schools.
The differences in education policy, and how the state would pay for it, are significant between the two plans. Senate Republicans called for a significant change in the property tax system, with an increase for the state share and a decrease for school districts. House Democrats proposed an array of taxes they said could be used, depending on the size of the increase.
Secret negotiations for the overall budget have occurred separate from the secret school policy negotiations, although some legislative leaders are involved in both.
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