Thousands of Wash. workers get furlough notices

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Thousands of state workers received notifications Monday that they may be temporarily laid off starting next week, even as Gov. Jay Inslee expressed an upbeat tone about budget talks that could avert a government shutdown.

Inslee's financial managers directed agencies to start sending notices because lawmakers have been unable to finalize a budget. The Office of Financial Management estimates that more than 25,000 would be furloughed if there is no budget deal, although some of those workers may not get their notices immediately.

The Department of Social and Health Services was in the process Monday afternoon of distributing information to about 7,700 employees who would be kept from work, said agency spokeswoman Chris Case. She was tasked with notifying workers in the public affairs department and told each one that she hopes the agency will never have to implement the plan.

"No matter how hopeful you are about the Legislature, it just gives you an awful feeling in your gut," Case said. She added that agency workers were particularly worried about the members of the public they serve.

The state believes 34 agencies will have to cease operations next week while another 24 agencies would be partially shut down.

Inslee, however, used an afternoon news conference to say that he has seen "very significant breakthroughs" in recent budget talks and that he believed a deal was imminent.

"I think there is a very, very good chance in the next few hours that there is an agreement," Inslee said. He added that it would likely take days to officially wrap up the budget process and get it to his desk.

Inslee's hopeful projection wasn't fulfilled, as lawmakers were still working on details Monday evening. However, Republicans also indicated that the budget talks were going well.

"We share the governor's optimism," Republican Sen. Joe Fain said.

Washington's current two-year budget comes to a close at the end of June. Lawmakers have been struggling for several weeks to reach compromise on how to spend government dollars in the coming two years.

Leaders in both parties have repeatedly asserted that they will reach agreement and avoid a government shutdown, although lawmakers have blown past all their other deadlines so far. They were initially supposed to complete a budget in April.

Senate leaders have argued that lawmakers in the House are favoring social services programs over education funding. House leaders have contended that the Senate is looking to cut some existing human services and health care programs in order to reach some arbitrary goals.

___

AP writer Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.


(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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