By Rachel La Corte
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday called lawmakers back for a third special session, saying that “the clock is running out” before Washington state faces a partial government shutdown.
The new overtime session started moments after lawmakers adjourned their second 30-day special session.
The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate have been struggling to reach agreement on a new two-year state operating budget before the current budget runs out at midnight June 30.
If a new budget isn’t signed by that time, a partial shutdown starts July 1.
Inslee said he would not accept a temporary budget if lawmakers don’t complete their work.
“A government shutdown and a 30-day budget are both equally reckless, equally irresponsible tactics that fail to deal with the long-term fiscal and fiduciary consequences of not doing their job, which is to produce a two-year budget for the people of the state of Washington,” he said.
He added that if he didn’t get a budget from them by the end of next week, the Legislature would “have to live with the legacy” of being the first in the state “to fail completely on the one job they are legally required to do.”
While Washington state has never had a partial government shutdown, the Legislature has taken its budget talks to the brink before, including in 2013 and 2015, with budgets not signed by the governor until June 30 both years.
An added challenge for the Legislature this year is having to write a budget that satisfies a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding.
The state has been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 high court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate.
Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries.
School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies. Senate Republicans and House Democrats have disagreed on several areas, including whether or not new taxes are needed.
Contingency plans for a potential shutdown have been ongoing for weeks, and notices will go out today to about 32,000 state workers warning them they will be temporarily laid off if a budget is not in place by the deadline.
A partial shutdown would affect everything from community supervision of offenders on probation, to meal services to the elderly to reservations made at state parks.
“We’re all frustrated,” said Sen. Joe Fain, the Senate Republican floor leader. “But I have every expectation that we’ll do as we’ve done in previous years and that we’ll get a deal done next week.”
Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said that to have time to draft the budget and vote on it, lawmakers would need to have an agreed-to deal by Tuesday.
Sullivan said that while lawmakers have made some progress, “we still have a ways to go.”
“We know we’re going to have to come to the middle,” he said.
“That means accepting some of the things that we don’t like, but they’re also going to have to accept some of the things that they don’t like.”