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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

A Noisy March, A Cordial Meeting But No Sign Of A Budget Deal

The state of Washington is 15 days from a partial government shutdown if lawmakers can’t come to agreement on a budget. On Thursday there was a noisy march through the Capitol and a high level meeting in the governor’s office.

But so far, there’s no sign of a deal.

In ponchos, in the rain, unionized homecare workers noisily marched through the Capitol campus. Their message to lawmakers: don’t cut our healthcare benefits in the new budget.

Inside the Capitol, top budget writers from the House and Senate met in the governor’s office. Afterwards, House budget chair Timm Ormsby, a Democrat, described the meeting as “very cordial.”

“We know each other, we can get along easily personally,” he said.

But the issues that divide them are thorny. How much to spend, how much to tax and how to fully fund schools as required by the state Supreme Court.

“This is about us representing the various philosophies and values of our respective caucuses,” Ormsby said.

Both sides said it’s still possible to get a deal and avoid a government shutdown on July 1.

“Everyone in here is working with that in mind and has every confidence that we’ll get our responsibilities taken care of,” Ormsby said.

“Nobody wants to shut down government,” said Senate budget chair John Braun, a Republican. “That’s a terrible outcome no matter which caucus, which party you’re in. Nobody wants to see that happen.”

But time is running out. And there’s still a lot to figure out.

A special negotiating team has been meeting for weeks on K-12 funding, but still hasn’t arrived at a consensus. Key issues for that group include teacher compensation and levy reform.

Meanwhile smaller teams are negotiating other elements of the budget like mental health and natural resources.

But there’s still no overarching agreement about how much the next budget—estimated to be in the $40 billion range—will spend or where the money will come from.

On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said it was time to “kickstart” budget negotiations and said he’d extracted a promise from budget negotiators to start meeting face-to-face the following day.

“They’re going to have to make major moves on spending and they’re going to have to make major moves on revenue in order to have something that will actually meet the needs of the state of Washington,” Inslee said Monday. “And they need to start that tomorrow morning.”

However, it took until Thursday for a meeting to take place. Afterwards, Ormbsy said they had not discussed the kinds of details the governor said he wanted them to.

“The purpose was to develop an outline for getting done and … what does the schedule need to look like in order to get conclusion on time,” Ormbsy said.

He added that they also discussed non-budget items that might be part of a final deal. Issues like paid family leave and Sound Transit car tab fees are among the policy issues that could be in play.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."