Threats of Shutdown Don’t Have to Become the New Normal
With just one week left for the Washington State Legislature to pass a budget for the next two years, preparations are underway for a full or partial shutdown of state services that would harm tens of thousands of Washingtonians. Today, more than 25,000 employees are receiving furlough notices – just as they did two years ago when our state was in the same situation. Unless lawmakers agree on long-term, sustainable revenue solutions, these kinds of biennial shutdown threats are likely to become the norm. If they have the foresight and vision to take the long view in their budget decision making, though, they can prevent that from happening.
Into their second special session, the House and Senate remain at odds over investment priorities for the next budget cycle, which begins on July 1st, and how to pay for essential state services – from education to public safety – that benefit all Washingtonians. In its latest budget proposal released yesterday, the House would invest about $300 million more than the Senate and would close six tax breaks to generate additional revenue. The Senate makes its budget balance through short-term, Band-Aid fixes and gimmicks like transferring funds from other accounts and relying on unrealistic savings that they say can be accomplished in state government through Lean management. [Even the Office of Financial Management warned against relying on additional Lean savings.]
If a budget is not passed by June 30th, those 25,000-plus workers who are receiving furlough notices will be temporarily laid off without pay. What’s more, many state services that Washingtonians rely on will be pared down or cease altogether. As a large contributor to the state’s economy, a shutdown of public services would spell widespread disruption in the commerce and productivity of the state. And it would put the health and safety of Washingtonians in jeopardy across all 49 legislative districts (see table).
(Click on the image below to view the entire table)
Just some services that would be ended or scaled back:
- Students at public universities and community colleges will not have access to state financial aid programs for fall enrollment.
- All state parks will close before the Independence Day holiday weekend.
- Licensing activities for some businesses will be suspended, such as real estate brokers and appraisers, architects, cosmetologists, and employment agencies.
- Parents with low incomes will stop receiving Working Connections Child Care services that help them remain in the workforce. Assistance to help families with low incomes address one-time emergent needs – like shelter, food, or medical care – will also end (see table).
- Pregnant women with low incomes will lose their cash assistance (see table).
- Services for people in the Aged, Blind, Disabled program will end (see table).
- Supports that keep families intact and prevent out-of-home placement of children will end (see table).
- Vocational rehabilitation services that help individuals with disabilities gain employment will end (see table), and the Housing and Essential Needs program for people with low incomes who cannot work due to a disability will end on August 1st.
- New criminal offenders will be housed in county jails, and community supervision would end for all offenders except those supervised under an interstate compact.
Services that would continue (not a comprehensive list):
- Public colleges and universities will continue to operate using funding from tuition payments and other accounts that are not appropriated by the Legislature;
- Services that are funded with a federal match, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash assistance and Medicaid (until the state withdraws from the program);
- Unemployment benefits, pensions, and worker compensation payments;
- Care for people in state institutions, such as state hospitals;
- Foster care and emergency child protective services; and
- Services that are mandated by federal law or the Washington State Constitution.
Amid the urgency to pass a budget and avoid a shutdown, lawmakers should not rush to piecemeal, short-term patches. Instead, they should implement real, long-lasting solutions to sustain our children’s education, keep essential state services stable over the long haul, and invest in the important building blocks of a strong economy. To do that, they should not only adopt the House’s proposal to close tax breaks to generate additional revenue, but they should also revive the capital gains tax proposal.
They have the opportunity to use the budget to secure the economic strength and progress of our state and its residents over the next five, 10, 50-plus years. (Our Progress Index provides a roadmap for just how they can do that.) If they focus on how they can truly invest in our state and its people, rather than just trying to balance the line items for the next two years, think of the kind of state they could help create. At the very least, think how nice it would be if hardworking Washingtonians didn’t have to face the exhausting threat of a government shutdown every two years.