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Several unknowns if state government shuts down

Washington state capital in Olympia. (AP file photo)

If the state Legislature doesn’t come up with a budget deal by June 30, it’s lights out for many state government operations and at least 32,000 state employees would be temporarily laid off.

This is the third time in four years state government has been on the brink of closure, all because legislators have failed to agree on budgets in a timely fashion. In 2013 and 2015, a shutdown was narrowly avoided by last-minute deal-making and stop-gap funding measures. This year, that won’t happen.

Governor Jay Inslee announced earlier this week that he will veto any temporary funding packages that would simply kick the can down the road. There will be no more special sessions.

According to contingency plans provided by the Office of Financial Management, 29 state agencies will be shuttered entirely, including State Parks, the Liquor and Cannabis Board, and State Lottery. Others will remain in partial operation, only providing critical and legally mandated services.  Other impacts include minimal supervision of released prisoners and a hobbling of disease prevention efforts by the Department of Health.

All state parks would close July 1, and all prior camping reservations will be canceled.

“The gates will be locked. There will be no skeleton crew. There will be nobody to provide services. There will be no electricity. There won’t be water,” said Virginia Painter with Washington State Parks.

Refunds will be issued for all reservations if a shutdown occurs and Painter encourages campers to keep their existing plans until further notice. State parks are also popular venues for summer weddings, which is tough luck for couples scrambling to find an alternate wedding venue.

Gamblers in the state won’t be feeling lucky either: sales of all lottery tickets would cease on July 1.

Those should be the least of Washington resident’s concerns, according to the Washington State Department of Health, which would see it’s disease outbreak protection capabilities crippled.

“Routine disease testing would cease, causing outbreaks to go undetected and unmitigated. No disease outbreak support would be provided which includes tracking, testing, and managing disease prevention efforts,” said David Johnson with the D.O.H.

He notes that the state is currently experiencing a mumps outbreak, with roughly 870 documented cases on record. Other efforts to combat measles, food borne illness, and sexually transmitted infection would be compromised.

“If there is a shutdown, this will impact the health of all Washingtonians,” Johnson said.

The Department of Corrections would temporarily lose 3,400 of their approximately 8,500 workers. While State Corrections facilities will remain in operation, they would not be able to accept any new prisoners as of July 1. County jails would have to handle all new prisoner intake.

Although Jeremy Barclay with the D.O.C is reassuring the public there are no safety concerns, he does acknowledge that for the roughly 18,000 former prisoners under state supervision, “supervision will be limited… there will be some sex offenders who will not be under community supervision.”

In fact, supervision statewide would be limited. The Department of Fish and Wildlife would lose approximately 1,500 employees along with much of their ability to monitor licensing violations, over-harvesting, and poaching. With the State Liquor and Cannabis Board closed, enforcement operations would cease entirely. And at the Department of Social and Health Services, no one will be enforcing delinquent child support payments.

“Our state’s nine child support field offices would all be closed, which would likely result in the loss or delay of about 6000 … payments per month,” said Adolfo Capestany with DSHS. Additionally, “… There would be no active work done on new child support cases, including enforcement.”

And don’t bother trying to call state agencies after July 1 with concerns, complaints, or assistance. All over the state, “nobody will be picking up the phones,” Painter said.

Every agency does has contingency plans in place and final numbers of expected layoffs should be completed by the Office of Financial Management by the end of the week. However, even with contingency plans, Capestany says state agencies are facing a great deal of uncertainty, “having never gone into a partial government shutdown in the state, we actually don’t know what the effects of it would be if it goes beyond a certain period of time. That’s the one thing about this: this state has never had that [happen].”

Pink slips will go out to state employees on June 22. And yet, Painter says they are optimistic a deal will be reached, “We hope for the best but we plan for the worst.”

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