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Independent budget office proposed

Published (4/29/2011)
By Nick Busse
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Some lawmakers have questioned the accuracy of fiscal notes — cost estimates for proposed legislation — produced by Minnesota Management & Budget. Rep. King Banaian (R-St. Cloud) has come forward with a plan to establish a legislative “counterweight” to MMB’s fiscal analysis.

Banaian sponsors HF1506 that would transfer the responsibility for producing fiscal notes to an independent office in the Legislature. Under the bill, the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy would be expanded and reorganized to produce fiscal notes and analyze fiscal policy.

The House Government Operations and Elections Committee approved the bill April 26 on a divided voice vote and sent it to the House State Government Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.

“In many states, the fiscal note process is actually controlled by the Legislature rather than by the executive branch,” Banaian said, giving Wisconsin, Texas and Maryland as examples. He also cited the federal model, where the Office of Management and Budget in the executive branch is balanced by the Congressional Budget Office.

The bill would change the LCPFP’s membership to include six members each from the House and Senate, with equal representation from both parties. The staff would be nonpartisan. Banaian said he believes the total cost of the bill would be less than $1 million.

Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) called it “a little naïve” to think a handful of legislative staffers could accomplish the same work currently performed by an agency the size of MMB.

“You have to have specific programmatic knowledge on virtually any topic in order to be able to actually provide a fiscal note service,” Winkler said.

Banaian replied that executive branch staff would still provide information needed to draft fiscal notes. He said the difference would be that legislative staff, rather than MMB staff, would be the ones who actually review the information and produce the fiscal note.

“We’re looking for a counterweight, something that can come in … to simply look at it with a new set of eyes,” Banaian said.

John Pollard, MMB’s legislative and communications director, said nonpartisan fiscal staff at the Legislature already serve as a second set of eyes on fiscal notes. He said the current process is “working pretty well.”

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