Capital budget impasse leads to state employee layoffs

KING 5's Heather Graf reports.

A months-long dispute between lawmakers in Olympia has now led to state employee layoffs. The legislative impasse centers around the capital budget.

Republicans have refused to pass a capital budget until Democrats agree to fix a water rights issue that's impacting rural residents and rural home construction.

The disagreement means more than $4 billion worth of state funded construction projects are on hold, along with planned repairs to state-owned buildings.

In addition, the capital budget pays the salaries of hundreds of state workers.

For the last few months, the Office of Financial Management has been working closely with state agencies, helping them identify ways to legally pay employees whose jobs are funded through the capital budget.  

Now, some of those agencies say they can no longer cover those costs, and have been forced to make layoffs.

The State Parks Department was the first to issue layoff notices. Fifteen layoff notices went out in September. Four of those 15 employees were able to take other positions within the department. The other 11 are now without a job.  If a capital budget isn't approved by March 15, a spokesperson says more layoffs will be necessary.

The Department of Enterprise Services says 18 employees were laid off, effective this week. Most of the impacted jobs are engineering and architectural services staff that oversee project management for construction projects that are funded through the capital budget.

"It was stressful and there was a lot of work going on to try to see how long we could retain folks," said Linda Kent, a spokesperson for the Department of Enterprise Services.  "It's never a pleasant situation to face.  It's always really hard to see really talented people go."

Kent said their team impacted by the layoffs oversees about $500 million in projects, including about $30 million in projects on the Capitol Campus.

On Monday, Capitol Campus Architect Chris Gizzi showed KING 5 a few of the projects now in limbo, including planned repairs to address water intrusion and leaks in the Capitol Court Building. 

Repairs and upgrades to nearly 60 aging elevators on the Capitol Campus are on hold as well.

In a written assessment of the impacts of the capital budget impasse, the Office of Financial Management cited a five-month period during which failing elevators in state-owned buildings resulted in 176 elevator service calls and 24 instances of people stuck in elevators.

"They all require constant maintenance. And eventually, the older ones get to the point where they need extensive repairs. And in a number of our facilities, that is definitely the case," said Gizzi. "It's a pretty major issue for us."

He also says he personally knows some of the DES employees who were laid off.

"They're close friends. I don't want to see them impacted by it," he said. "We're losing a lot of really talented people and bringing new people back in and getting them up to speed afterward is going to be challenging."

The University of Washington has about 125 employees whose salaries are funded through the capital budget. The school is currently dipping in to the school's reserve fund to pay those employees and keep them on staff.

But if there's still no capital budget by the end of the year, a UW spokesperson said they'll be looking at layoffs as well.

The Office of Financial Management says the Department of Corrections and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction would likely be facing layoffs in early 2018 as well, unless a capital budget deal is reached before then.

The Department of Fish & Wildlife and several other agencies are now crunching the numbers to see how long they can cover the costs of employee salaries that are normally funded through the capital budget.

KING 5 checked in with both Democrats and Republicans in Olympia on Monday, to see where things stand. Both sides say that negotiations are ongoing. Yet when it comes to the capital budget and the Hirst water rights decision, they say they're far from an agreement.

Democrats expressed frustration about Republicans' refusal to pass a capital budget. But Republicans are standing firm, saying they will not approve the capital budget without a permanent fix to the Hirst water rights issue.

© 2017 KING-TV


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