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Gov. Inslee Prepares for Government Shutdown Legislators Say Won’t Happen

Inslee staff preparing for what they say could be government shutdown
(Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The Senate and House leaders who are being called back to Olympia this week are calling Inslee’s hints of a state government shutdown “complete nonsense.”

Critics are accusing Inslee of borrowing from his ally in the White House by continuously hinting that if legislators don’t pass a state budget by July 1 the government will shut down. After failing to reach a budget during the legislative session and a special session that ended last week, a second special session started this week in Olympia.

Inslee, according to the Tacoma News Tribune, has been meeting with his staff and legal general counsel to prepare contingency plans.

According to Inslee:

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’s argument relies almost solely on the Washington state constitution, which does not contain any provisions or directions for how to spend money to keep the government going. Inslee said if it drags on, state officials will begin to notify the state’s 55,000 public employees about their status, and how it could affect them.

Inslee’s staff says some of the issues they have to consider include:

  • 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?

However, Senate Leader Rodney Tom (D) who leads the GOP controlled senior branch, dismisses Inslee’s claims.

Any talk of a shutdown — it might make great press, but it’s complete nonsense. It’s not going to happen. Yeah, you should plan for it, but it’s not going to happen. And I’ll say that with certainty.”

Tom referred to what he called significant progress towards passing a budget, and says most of the differences are on minor issues that can still be worked out. Many legislators point towards last week’s concession by the Democrat-controlled House, who agreed to drop their plan to extend the controversial Business and Occupation tax that was set to expire June 30th.

Democratic House Leader Frank Chopp has also pledged along with Sen. Tom that neither side will do anything that would take the state “over the fiscal cliff.” Their dismissive tone towards Inslee’s claims have some critics saying the governor might just be playing a bit of Chicken Little. We will see what happens during the second special session.

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