Government shutdown looms as legislature debates budget

By Steve Guntli

Washington state government is facing a shutdown if state legislators don’t soon agree on a budget.

State officials have begun notifying some state employees they will be furloughed if the budget isn’t approved by midnight on June 30. More than 26,000 state employees could face mandatory unpaid leaves, according to the Washington State Office of Financial Management.

Governor Jay Inslee said he does not believe the shutdown will take place, but the state is required to give employees notice in the event it does.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” Inslee told reporters last month. “I have every confidence the legislators are going to produce a bipartisan budget fairly shortly. So I don’t want to think about the consequences of failure.”

The House and Senate have been in a gridlock over budget negotiations for weeks. The legislation is currently in a second overtime session after the regular 105-day session and an additional 30-day session failed to reach a budget deal.

Tax increases have been a major sticking point. Democrats are pushing for $1.5 billion in tax increases, including capital gains taxes on wealthy citizens, which would go towards funding educational programs. Republicans have been adamant about not raising taxes, insisting that the state has $400 million more than previously forecasted.

If the shutdown occurs, state universities and community colleges will remain open. Other agencies, such as the state lottery, state parks and liquor control board, would face complete shutdowns. The department of social and health services and the department of corrections would face partial shutdowns.

So far, only one department, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), has had its budget approved. As such, WSDOT will not be affected by a potential shutdown.

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