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State unsure what government shutdown would mean

On Tuesday, Governor Inslee said a shutdown would have significant ramifications for those who depend on state services. (AP Photo/File)

Nobody knows for sure what it will look like but Washington Governor Jay Inslee is warning that many state operations and services will cease if state lawmakers can’t compromise on a new, two-year budget.

The governor called an emergency meeting of his cabinet to figure out what to do if the legislature fails to act before the budget cycle ends, June 30. He sent a
letter Wednesday telling state agency leaders that the presumption is that their programs, functions or services will end. He’s asking if there are reasons, such as constitutional mandates or federal funding that would allow him to exempt certain services from shutdown.

A partial shutdown would not mean reduced working hours or state employee furloughs.

“It’s about whether we can legally spend money to provide a service and it’s only partial in the sense that some of these programs are exempted either by federal mandate or our own constitutional mandate or a few other very narrow exemptions that may exist,” said Inslee’s communications director David Postman.

On Tuesday, Governor Inslee said a shutdown would have significant ramifications for those who depend on state services. “It would cause great uncertainty for thousands of vendors, health care providers, teachers, students and state employees.” Inslee said the state’s 55,000 employees must be advised of their employment status before any shutdown.

It stands to reason that some state operations must continue, such as prisons and law enforcement. Beyond that, Inslee is looking for guidance. And he wants recommendations by the end of the business day, Monday.

There’s also the issue of education spending. The state is already under order of the state Supreme Court to increase funding for basic education.

“So the lawyers have already raised the question that the court could undertake further actions to enforce that obligation if we are not able to appropriate any money to education on July 1,” explained Postman. “We don’t have any Washington state case law that says when you shut down government, that’s what this means,” he said. “This is all uncharted territory here.”

One possibility to avoid a shutdown is a short-term, temporary budget to bridge the gap until lawmakers can find a permanent deal.

“We don’t even know if it is a possibility, it’s certainly not a good option but if we get down to July 1, it’s certainly a question that’s going to be answered,” said Postman.

Once agency leaders offer the governor their recommendations, the Office of Financial Management will review the information and ultimately send out a list of those programs and services expected to continue in the event of a government shutdown.

Governor Inslee has canceled his trip to the Paris Air Show with the possibility of a shutdown.

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