OLYMPIA — Washington is now seven days from a government shutdown.
Legislators from both parties said Sunday they were still searching for a final budget compromise that would avert the temporary layoff of many state workers. Negotiators described ongoing progress but acknowledged that there was a possibility that talks could continue dragging on.
"We've got some big pieces that still have to be resolved," said House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington.
This morning, thousands of state employees will begin receiving notifications that they will be temporarily laid off if there is no budget deal by July 1. Republican Rep. Gary Alexander said he expected a deal would come together by the end of today, with hopes of passing the budget by midweek.
"I didn't expect a shutdown from day one, and I don't expect one now," he said.
Washington's current two-year budget comes to a close at the end of June, and the state believes 34 agencies will have to completely cease operations if there is no new spending plan. Another 24 agencies would face partial shutdowns and 25 would remain open.
Lawmakers have been struggling to shape a budget all year, and are now well past the mid-April end of the regular legislative session.
Budget negotiators have declined to discuss the specifics of their disagreements, as ongoing discussions involve a constant exchange of proposals. However, Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said the biggest lingering question centers on how much to spend on education.
Tom, a conservative Democrat who leads a Senate majority dominated by Republicans, said his caucus wants to set funding levels for education and higher education while House Democrats want some of that education money for social services.
Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, the top House budget writer, characterized it another way, saying the Senate wants to cut existing human services and health care programs in order to reach some arbitrary goals.
Tom had previously predicted that the Senate would complete its work by Sunday. He expressed optimism about the ongoing budget but said, "I think we failed for not getting done today."