By Rep. Paul Anderson
In what appears to be a pattern, the Legislature ran out of time last Monday evening without putting together a new, two-year state budget.
Only one finance bill made the midnight deadline before adjournment, that being the higher education bill. One other, the bill pertaining to agriculture and housing, was introduced in the last half hour of session but wasn’t acted upon. There just wasn’t enough time to properly go over the 109-page bill, and it was laid on the table as the clock struck midnight and the session ended.
After an informational hearing to learn about the bill two days later, on Wednesday, it appears that the bill is solid. It contains a provision that I strongly support, namely $5 million for dairy farmers to help defray the cost of enrollment in the federal margin protection plan. There is a cap on the size herd that would be eligible for this assistance, and it’s roughly 750 cows. There may be additional funding for dairy in the jobs bill, which is still under consideration.
The last few days of the regular session were a bit different than those of previous years. Instead of a mad rush to work on and finish bills right up until the midnight deadline, action was more subdued. That’s because the two leaders from the House and Senate, along with Gov. Walz, didn’t come up with overall spending targets until Sunday night, the day before adjournment. And, even though there was agreement on the overall size of the next budget, details of exactly how that funding would be disbursed among the various departments of state government had not been fully agreed to.
That’s where the hang-up occurred as conference committees were given only until 5 p.m. the next day to allocate their funding and finish up work on their respective bills. That proved to be an unworkable timeline.
One needs to go back to 1985 to find a session where fewer budget bills were passed and sent to the governor before session adjournment. There were high aspirations at the start of this year’s session that the process was different and things wouldn’t get rushed at the end. Earlier goals were set for moving bills along, but the key goal of coming up with joint spending targets proved difficult to achieve. Not having those targets slowed the entire process in the final week of session and made the goal of finishing on time unattainable.
The two biggest areas where compromise took place were in transportation, where the governor’s demand for a 20-cent increase in the gas tax was dropped, and in human services, where the sunset to the provider tax was eliminated. The rate of the so-called “sick tax” was reduced from 2 percent to 1.8 percent, however it will remain in place.
As of this writing, we haven’t been informed of when a special session will be called to finish work on budget bills, which would go into effect with the new fiscal year on July 1. We were instructed to keep the two days before the Memorial Day weekend open, but at this time it appears more likely the following week is when the Legislature will be called back to the Capitol. Only the governor can call a special session, and various procedures pertaining to the session are usually agreed upon before that announcement is made.