WA budget stalemate raises concerns about possible shutdown




Posted on May 17, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Updated Thursday, May 19 at 8:20 AM

OLYMPIA, Wash. – There's still a budget stalemate in the Washington state Legislature with seven days left in the special session. That has the state making contingency plans if lawmakers can't get something passed.

Besides the May 25 deadline to end the special session, there is another date to watch: June 30. It's the end of the state's fiscal year. If there's not budget by then, parts of the government may shut down.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the House would deliver its third offer to the Senate Tuesday. But there was still hardly any movement on workers compensation, which is one of the key issues. The Senate and governor want to cut the cost of lifetime pensions for disabled workers by offering lump sum payments.

House Democrats oppose the idea and were going to hold a press conference Tuesday morning, but the issue has gotten so contentious they cancelled at the last minute.

"Hopefully, we'll have some agreement in the very near future on this," said Sullivan, who added that the majority of House members weren't willing to budge on the lump sum issue.

"A lot of employees would probably be furloughed," said Budget Director Marty Brown. He said the possibility of a state government shutdown was raised briefly at a cabinet meeting Monday.

Other than core public safety jobs, many of the state's 100,000 employees could be affected if there is no budget deal by June 30.

"Talking to folks to say 'start thinking about it.' We don't think it's going to happen, but we need to be prepared," said Brown.

"I expect them to do what's necessary to get it done to avoid a shutdown," said Gov. Chris Gregoire. "But as of June 30 going forward, the only thing the state would be able to do is invest in those constitutionally required responsibilities, life saving kinds of responsibilities."

In addition to the stalemate over workers comp, the House and Senate still have pretty big differences over:

  • Disability lifeline grants
  • Cuts to education
  • The state debt limit

The governor's staff says it will get more concerned about a shutdown if there's no budget agreement by early June. In recent history, the state has always avoided a shutdown. Back in 1991, they signed the budget on June 30.