A possible state government shutdown looms large in Thurston County as lawmakers struggle to pass a budget before the June 30 deadline.
The mayors of Thurston County’s three largest cities are bracing for what could be a double whammy for their communities: a state government shutdown that hurts state workers and their barely recovering economies, followed by the adoption of a “mediocre” state budget that doesn’t meet the needs of cities.
“Right when we’re starting to see improvement in the economy, this is the worst thing that could happen,” Lacey Mayor Andy Ryder told The Olympian’s editorial board Tuesday.
Ryder said the local economy is at a tipping point. “We are already struggling, and it looks like we’re going to get a fallback budget,” he said.
Since the state government is the largest employer in Thurston County, a shutdown would have the biggest effect here. More than 26,000 state workers would be temporarily laid off statewide, the state reports. Notices to employees began arriving via email this week.
Dozens of agencies and offices would close during a shutdown, including state parks, the Washington Lottery and the Liquor Control Board. Facing a partial shutdown would be the governor’s office, Department of Social and Health Services, and the Department of Corrections. Community supervision would stop for convicts on probation.
The mayors agreed that the various iterations of the state budget they’ve seen all fall short of meeting the needs of local municipalities. In one example, Olympia Mayor Stephen Buxbaum cited the state’s continuing failure to improve the transportation infrastructure, leaving cities to shoulder the burden of highway congestion on clogged surface streets. Shared revenue to the cities also likely will fall.
“We are going through all this drama for a clearly mediocre product,” Buxbaum said of the budget. “We are a very wealthy state, but we are limiting the conversation to ‘no new taxes’ instead of how to best meet our needs. It belittles us as a state.”
Another sticking point for the mayors is the political ideologies that are still stalling the budget negotiations at the end of the Legislature’s second special session.
“It is frustrating that something as basic as a state budget can’t be agreed to in the amount of time they’ve had,” Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet said. “They need to get beyond the philosophical. Everybody wants less government until they need it.”
Ryder blasted the potential shutdown as a bad business decision and noted the potential financial impact on the regional economy, including thousands of families who would lose a paycheck at the height of summer vacation season.
But Buxbaum is even more concerned about the long term.
“Nobody wants to see a shutdown, but it’s extremely important to see a budget that is helpful,” he said.