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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."

Inslee Calls Third Special Session As Government Shutdown Looms

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a third special session on Wednesday and said it was time to ''crack the whip'' on lawmakers to get a budget deal and avoid a July 1 government shutdown.

Unless lawmakers can agree on a budget, the state of Washington is just days away from a first-ever government shutdown. Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday called a third special session and demanded that House Democrats and Senate Republicans get to the table and get a deal.

Inslee announced the immediate start of a third special session. That puts 30 days back on the clock, but the governor made clear that lawmakers don’t have nearly that much time.

“There are nine days remaining in the current fiscal year,” Inslee said.

If there’s no budget by June 30, state government will partially shut down. Inslee listed off just some of the impacts: state parks will close, prisons won’t accept new inmates and hatchery fish could die.

He said it’s time to “crack the whip” on lawmakers.

“They’ve been punting for too many months and I’ve got to just lay down the law and make it clear they’ve got a job to do and I expect them to do it,” Inslee said.

Inslee also made clear that he will veto any attempt by lawmakers to pass a temporary budget to buy themselves more time.

Earlier, outside his office, Inslee met briefly with education and human services advocates. Among them, Alise Hegle who helps families navigate the child welfare system. She said in a government shutdown kids and parents wouldn’t get their weekly visits.

“Many of our visitation providers are contracted out,” Hegle said. “And so if they’re receiving notices that there’s going to be a potential government shutdown then they’re not going to be able to ensure that this child is being transported to go see their parent and vice versa.”

Credit Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network
Northwest News Network
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said fixing school funding is a ''generational issue,'' but expressed confidence that Senate Republicans and House Democrats can find agreement on a budget and avoid a government shutdown.

How real is the prospect of a government shutdown? Inslee said he’s “a lot more concerned” now than he was. But Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler said he remains optimistic. He noted there are multiple negotiating teams working on different parts of the budget.

“They’re all getting close, they’re all getting closer,” Schoesler said. “Of course I would prefer we were farther along.”

But Schoesler also said this is no ordinary budget. Lawmakers are under court order to fund a constitutional public school system.

“This is a generational issue and it doesn’t come together as easy as addressing the crime of the year did in the 90s,” he said.

House Democrats and Senate Republicans have been hung up for months over how to end the reliance on local school levies to fund basic education. Republicans voted to eliminate the levies and impose a new state property tax levy—contingent on voter approval in November. Democrats proposed, but never voted on, a multi-billion dollar tax package.

Finding a compromise between those vastly different approaches is what’s remained elusive.

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."