Thousands of state workers received notifications Monday that they could be temporarily laid off starting next week, even as Gov. Jay Inslee expressed an upbeat tone about budget talks that could avert a government shutdown.
Inslee’s financial managers directed agencies to start sending notices because lawmakers have not been able to finalize a budget. The Office of Financial Management estimates more than 25,000 would be furloughed if there is no budget deal, although some of those workers might not get their notices immediately.
“I am personally in a wait-and-see mode,” said DeFrance Clarke, an information technology specialist who works at the Department of Labor and Industries headquarters in Tumwater. Clarke received a temporary layoff notice Monday.
Many people in Clarke’s office have started filing for unemployment benefits, he said. About 98 percent of Labor and Industries employees are affected by the temporary layoffs, he said.
“I don’t anticipate it will actually go through,” Clarke said. “People are worried, yes, but waiting.”
The Department of Social and Health Services was distributing information to about 7,700 employees who would be kept from work, agency spokeswoman Chris Case said. She said agency workers were particularly worried about the members of the public they serve.
James Robinson, president of the Local 793 union of employees at Western State Hospital, said that while only about 1 percent of employees at Western are expected to receive furlough notices, that didn’t eliminate the uneasiness around the office Monday.
“People are still worried because we’re in uncharted territory,” Robinson said. “This has never happened to us before.”
The state believes 34 agencies will have to cease operations next week while another 24 agencies would partially shut down.
Inslee, however, used an afternoon news conference to say he has seen “very significant breakthroughs” in recent budget talks and that he believed a deal was imminent.
“I think there is a very, very good chance in the next few hours that there is an agreement,” Inslee said. He added that it would likely take days to officially wrap up the budget process and get it to his desk.
Inslee’s hopeful projection wasn’t fulfilled, as lawmakers still were working on details Monday evening. However, Republicans also indicated that the budget talks were going well.
“We share the governor’s optimism,” Republican Sen. Joe Fain said.
Washington’s current two-year budget comes to a close at the end of the month. Lawmakers have been struggling for several weeks to reach a compromise on how to spend government dollars in the coming two years.
Leaders in both parties have repeatedly asserted they will reach agreement and avoid a government shutdown, although lawmakers have blown past all their other deadlines so far. They were initially supposed to complete a budget in April.
Senate leaders have argued that lawmakers in the House are favoring social services programs over education funding. House leaders have contended that the Senate is looking to cut some existing human services and health care programs in order to reach some arbitrary goals.