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Originally published Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 4:38 PM

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Editorial: Lawmakers should pass a budget — or face a fine?

Washington state lawmakers could face a fine for missing a June 1 deadline for a state budget, but the consequences to government and families would be much worse.

Seattle Times Editorial

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IF the state Legislature hasn’t passed a budget before June 1, lawmakers could theoretically be charged with a misdemeanor.

That is an oft-overlooked but never-used provision of the state Budgeting and Accounting Act of 1973. Budgeting is arduous. Apparently lawmakers in the 1970s thought their successors might need a stiff kick in the rear.

Today’s Legislature certainly does.

Democrats, who control the House, and the Republican-dominated majority coalition in charge in the Senate have operating-budget plans that are $1 billion apart.

They appear likely to blow through the June 1 deadline. Just three other legislatures — in 1991, 2001 and 2003 — failed to pass a budget before June 1, according to state Treasurer Jim McIntire’s office.

That puts Washington on a countdown for a partial shutdown of state government. Failure to pass a budget by July 1, the end of the fiscal year, would be disastrous for the state credit rating and the state’s still-recovering economy, let alone the impact of missed pension payments or paychecks for more than 540,000 people. That’s the doomsday scenario.

More likely, budget negotiations could drag into mid-June. That has consequences, too. On June 15, school districts would have to start sending layoff notices to teachers, and collective bargaining agreements for state workers require 15-day layoff notice. State agencies would have to start preparing for doomsday, creating unnecessary distraction.

The 30-day special session ends June 11. That should be the drop-dead cutoff for a budget.

Each day of the special session costs about $10,000.

Cutting a deal — one that accounts for a $1.5 billion budget deficit and about $1 billion in additional education funding — will require compromise. No ideological lines in the sand over closing unjustified tax exemptions or over justifiable trims of the state budget.

The image of lawmakers being dragged to Thurston County District Court for failing to write a budget on time would make a good editorial cartoon.

But the real-world consequences of a blown budget deadline are dead serious.

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