By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- The Washington Legislature opened an extra special session June 12 for the sixth time in the past 20 years.
Legislators have 19 days to finalize a budget before the beginning of new two-year budget cycle. If no budget is approved by June 30, state agencies and school districts will likely be forced to lay off employees. But schools and agencies can't lay off employees without giving them two weeks' notice.
Entering the two-year cycle without a budget is unprecedented in Washington. However, in 1951, the Legislature convened a nine-day second special session -- called "extraordinary" sessions until 2007 -- because its budget was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.
Budget talks during the just-ended special session got hung up as the Democrat-led House and the Republican-steered Senate could not resolve differences over revenues and government reforms.
One of the items the House's proposed budget directs the Washington State Department of Agriculture to create a work group "to review fees supporting programs ... that are also supported with state general fund." The work group's "appropriate stakeholders" would develop a fee increase proposal to help make the fee-supported programs "less reliant on state general fund."
Tom Davis, director of government relations at the Washington State Farm Bureau, said the message is clear.
"This is code for 'you need to raise your fees because we are going to cut your state general fund appropriation,'" he said.
The focus will largely be on the food safety program, he said, with food processor licenses, dairy assessments, sanitary certificate and the egg assessment the most likely targets for fee increases once the report is completed and submitted by Dec. 1, 2013.
WSDA spokesman Hector Castro said programs funded by both fees and the state general fund include the microbiology lab, chemistry lab, animal health and the plant protection program.