OLYMPIA — Leaders in the Washington state Senate said Wednesday that lawmakers have agreed to the framework of a new budget to avert a government shutdown, but counterparts in the House cautioned that no final accord had been reached.
Republican Sen. Linda Evans Parlette told her colleagues in an email that the Senate and House had “reached an agreement” on the budget. Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom backed away from that language a bit, saying that negotiators have settled on the major components of the budget, allowing staff to go through the process of officially writing it.
Tom expects lawmakers will be able to vote on the spending plan Thursday or early Friday.
Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle agreed that a budget framework had been reached but that there was work to do.
“We have some remaining issues to address,” the Seattle Democrat said. “And they’re legitimate. But they’re solvable.”
Tom said the main budget framework would add $1 billion to the state’s education system and provide enough funding to higher education to keep tuition flat. Tom acknowledged that all the details of the budget had not been finalized, but he said the lingering issues would not hold up the process.
David Postman, spokesman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor has not been told of any agreement.
“We believe we are close, but as of now there is more work to be done. I’ll take it as a good sign that the Senate is anxious to make an announcement, but it is premature for anyone to say at this point that a deal has been struck,” Postman said in a statement.
Negotiators have been squabbling for weeks over the budget in hopes of reaching a final compromise.
One of the lingering places of disagreement surrounded questions about how much fish Washington residents consume — and the subsequent impact on water quality standards. The state has been exploring new water quality rules that are influenced by how much fish Washington residents eat, but the Senate has proposed a larger study that could put the rulemaking process on hold.
Tom said he wants the study to pass, since Boeing is concerned about the impact of the fish consumption numbers. But he said the Senate would still pass the budget even if the study wasn’t funded.
Much of Washington state government will be shut down Monday if the state doesn’t have a new spending plan by then. More than 25,000 workers would be temporarily laid off and some 34 agencies would completely cease operations.
Inslee met with cabinet members Wednesday afternoon to discuss contingency plans in the case of a government shutdown. Inslee’s chief of staff, Mary Alice Heuschel, said the process has been challenging for agency leaders and that the process is intensifying as the possible shutdown gets closer.
“There’s a tremendous concern that this will occur,” Heuschel said.
The state is beginning to send out notifications to tens of thousands of people who use state services, including 26,000 people who are state-funded recipients of Medicaid, about 7,000 people who made reservations at state parks during the first week of July and about 1,400 contractors working with the Department of Enterprise Services who would have their contracts suspended.
Lawmakers have been squabbling over the proposed two-year, $33 billion operating budget for weeks. They were unable to complete the budget during their allotted session that ended in April, and they were also unable to do the job during a 30-day special legislative session that ended earlier this month.