Lack of state budget threatens parks, jails

Staff writerJune 20, 2013 

Have campground reservations at a state park in early July? You might want to have a backup plan.

State parks would close, county jails would face even more crowding and community substance abuse treatment programs would be suspended should the Legislature fail to pass a budget by the end of June.

And those are just a few of the impacts of a government shutdown that will begin July 1 if lawmakers don’t reach a budget deal, Gov. Jay Inslee’s financial office said Thursday.

For state parks, a government shutdown would mean the closure of the agency’s 117 facilities beginning July 1, as well as cancellation of all scheduled events and camping reservations on park grounds, parks spokeswoman Virginia Painter said.

Painter said officials still are working on how to notify park patrons of the possibility of July closures. Should the parks close temporarily, anyone who paid to reserve park facilities during that time would be issued a refund, she said.

“We have a lot of people that would need to be notified, and we need to figure out when and how is the best way to do that so we don’t create unnecessary panic,” Painter said. “But at the same time, we need to let people know what is going on.”

Gerri Boyer, the director of a five-day Bible camp that is scheduled to take place at Millersylvania State Park south of Olympia in July, said “it would be devastating” if the event had to be canceled. About 50 to 60 children are expected to attend Trinity Lutheran Bible Camp this year from July 15-19, along with about 20 counselors and 12 staff members, Boyer said.

“The financial impact is without a doubt very present,” Boyer said. “But I would be more concerned about the social and emotional impact on the families and the children.”

Other effects of the shutdown would go beyond spoiling summer event plans. The state Department of Corrections would be unable to accept new prisoners starting July 1, causing all inmates who are scheduled to be transferred to a state prison to remain in county jails.

The Pierce County Jail, which announced last month that it is laying off about 30 employees and closing two units because of its own budget woes, simply doesn’t have the space to hold additional inmates, said Ed Troyer, spokesman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

“We’re in the process of lowering our population because of budget cuts — there’s no room for them here,” Troyer said Thursday. “It’s not going to happen.”

Because of constitutional obligations, the state Department of Corrections will continue to feed and house existing prisoners in the event of a government shutdown, but would stop supervising roughly 15,000 offenders out in the community, corrections spokesman Chad Lewis said.

Social services programs also would suffer. The state Department of Social and Health Services would continue running essential facilities, such as the Western State and Eastern State hospitals for the mentally ill, but would cut its community alcohol and substance abuse programs starting July 1.

Workforce retraining programs also would be suspended, as would funding for many senior citizen services, community mental health programs and services for the developmentally disabled who live on their own or with their families.

“We hate this,” DSHS spokeswoman Chris Case said. “Because we’re an agency that is created to assist the vulnerable and needy, having to tell them that we may not be able to provide those services goes against everything we stand for.

“What we’re doing is bringing fear and uncertainty into the lives of the people that rely on us for help.”

Lawmakers said Thursday that they hope to pass a budget by Sunday evening or early next week to avoid a government shutdown and keep all state agencies fully operational. If that happens, the agencies’ contingency plans that were announced Thursday won’t need to be implemented.

“Hopefully that information will be interesting, but not useful,” House budget writer Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said Thursday.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209
msantos@theolympian.com

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