Callaghan: Lowdown on possible shutdown of state government

By Peter Callaghan, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 
photoPeter Callaghan covers the state Legislature for The News Tribune in Tacoma. Blog: thenewstribune.com/politics; or Twitter: @CallaghanPeter. Reach him at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com.

Gov. Jay Inslee's press secretary characterized the lack of information about a state government shutdown that might happen July 1 like this: "There are more Qs than As right now."

That sounds like a cry for help from The Answer Man.

Q: I'm starting to hear talk of the Legislature shutting down state government. Isn't that something Congress does to the federal government?

A: Not even Congress is that reckless anymore. And it might not happen in Olympia either. But because of the ongoing stalemate between House Democrats and the Republican-led coalition that runs the Senate, the governor has decided to begin planning for a shutdown.

Q: Would state government really shut down? Wouldn't that lead to riots in the streets, prison doors being flung open, state parks closed to summer vacationers, drivers who text free to endanger life and limb? OMG!

A: Probably not, definitely not, probably and no. Government lawyers think services necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health and safety should be able to keep running under some unspecified emergency powers. Prisons will not be opened. Staycations may have to replace state park vacations. Texters had better beware because the State Patrol is funded via the transportation budget, which has already passed.

Q: I heard the U.S. Constitution trumps state constitutions and laws and that federal mandates must be carried out, even without a budget. What might that entail?

A: Lawyers think it would cover anyone who is in the care and custody of the state involuntarily, like those prisoners we've been talking about but also adults and children in state hospitals and institutions. But the vast majority of state services would be suspended and the vast majority of state workers would be furloughed.

Q: Thank God the liquor stores are no longer run by the state and will stay open. Why can't legislators do what Congress does when it can't agree on a budget? You know, ahhhh, what's that term?

A: Sequestration?

Q: No.

A: Filibuster?

Q: That's not it, either.

A: Continuing resolution?

Q: That's it!

A: They can't do that. They have to pass an appropriations bill or the government can't spend money. They could, however, pass a one-month budget at current levels and then get back to work.

Q: Would a 30-day budget help them resolve the stalemate?

A: It could. It could also just give them 30 more days to fight.

Q: I think I prefer a shutdown. How did the state get to this point?

A: Our constitution says no money can be paid out by the state treasurer unless it is appropriated by a majority of the House and Senate and signed by the governor. That hasn't happened, and the current appropriations law expires at midnight June 30. No budget agreement, no people behind the counter at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Q: Why can't they pass a budget? Isn't that what they get paid to do?

A: House Democrats and the governor have different ideas about the budget than the 23 Republicans and two Democrats who control the Senate. Either one side blinks or they each give a little. And yes, they do get paid … at least until July 1.

Q: A silver lining, then. Some Republicans think all this talk about a government shutdown is a political ploy to pressure them to give in. Is it?

A: Partly. But very little is done or said in Olympia absent the ulterior motive of partisan advantage. If there's gonna be a shutdown, both sides will do all they can to make sure the other side gets the blame.

Q: Glad they have their priorities straight. At least if the state government shuts down, it can't collect taxes from us, right?

A: Sorry, no. You'd keep paying, just not receiving.

Q: I guess I should have figured that. Well, thanks for not shutting down.

A: I'll be here.