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Inslee plans for contingency of government shutdown; Tom promises it won’t happen

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on June 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm with No Comments »
June 12, 2013 6:42 pm

Gov. Jay Inslee is calling a second special session starting 9 a.m. Wednesday that by law could last up 30 days. But if it runs that long, the Capitol might be one of the minority of buildings in state government with the lights still on.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference in Olympia Feb. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Gov. Jay Inslee 

If there’s no budget in place July 1, the state constitution does not provide for how to spend money.

Inslee’s staff has been planning behind the scenes, and the Democratic governor meets with his Cabinet at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday to talk about contingency plans.

“This is uncharted ground. It’s never happened before,” Inslee told reporters today. “So our lawyers are trying to untangle the skein of the services the state provides and see which ones are constitutionally mandated or mandated by federal law, and which ones are not. … This would be a major, major disruption of government services, no question about it.”

Inslee said notifications would need to go out to the state’s roughly 55,000 employees about their employment status.

The lawyers, led by Inslee general counsel Nick Brown, will have to answer other questions like:

  • Even if a program is mandatory, would it have to run on a skeleton crew? Would prisons have to be locked down, for example?
  • Can other services keep running because they are paid for with federal money or are not subject to appropriation by the Legislature? (Much of the Department of Transportation and State Patrol would probably remain working, since those have already been funded in a separate transportation budget.)
  • Can lawmakers simply avoid a shutdown by passing a temporary budget, say for 30 days?

    Sen. Rodney Tom

But Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom was coolly emphatic there will be no shutdown.

Tom, a Democrat who leads a mostly Republican caucus controlling the Senate, said he and Speaker Frank Chopp, leader of the Democrats who run the House, have assured each other they would avoid taking state government off a fiscal cliff.

He said there has been major progress in recent days, including his caucus’s offer to trade nearly $300 million in new tax revenue for some Senate proposals on topics ranging from school staffing to workers’ compensation to payday lending.

“Any talk of a shutdown — it might make great press, but it’s complete nonsense. It’s not going to happen,” Tom said.

Should government plan for one? “Yeah, you should plan for it, but it’s not going to happen. And I’ll say that with certainty.”

On the other side of the rotunda, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan wasn’t nearly so optimistic, saying the other side’s demand for policy changes has gotten in the way of budget negotiations.

“It’s June 11 and we haven’t been able to really sit down and negotiate the details of the budget. June 30 is the last day of the fiscal year,” said Sullivan, a Covington Democrat and Chopp’s top lieutenant. He said of a shutdown: “I think it’s a legitimate threat that needs to be evaluated. If they’re willing to come to the table and actually negotiate a budget,  then certainly, yeah, we’ll be done in time, but that has to take place.”

UPDATE: An analysis by the state treasurer’s office shows July payments are clustered toward the end of the month — school payments, for example — but some come much earlier, such as debt service, payroll and health care payments:

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