By Rep. Lisa Demuth
The Minnesota Legislature adjourned the 2021 session several hours ahead of Monday’s deadline without having passed a budget, punting that project to a special session likely next month.
The days and hours leading up adjournment usually are filled with high drama as frantic budget negotiations come down to the wire and a gaggle of reporters staking out the Capitol to ask the question: “Is there a deal?”
There was none of that deadline theater this week and it became clear legislators were OK about not getting their work done on time with the governor prepared to hand us a special-session mulligan next month. Some legislators even openly spoke of June 30, the last day of the fiscal year, as the “real” deadline.
The governor must call a special session in mid-June if he wants to extend Minnesota’s state of emergency declaration into a 15th month and there is no sign that he is ready to relinquish his powers anytime soon. With that in mind, even news of a budget deal having been struck between the governor and legislative leaders the morning of adjournment received a lukewarm reception with the realization it was logistically impossible to complete the task that same day and action would not occur until, probably, the middle of next month.
A month is a lifetime in legislative terms, so it remains to be seen how this framework of a deal withstands the pressures of the next few weeks. This tentative deal could evolve, especially as particulars are filled in around the general terms to which the governor and legislators have agreed.
As a brief aside to this arrangement, it is highly concerning to me that one provision of the budget deal stipulates the governor must (along with legislative leaders) provide prior approval of all components in omnibus finance bills before they are sent to him for enactment. This encroachment of the executive branch into legislative responsibilities should raise eyebrows for all of us. It is the Legislature’s fundamental charge to draft laws and pass them to the governor for his action.
This is a point I made on social media and was astonished to see pushback from the Twittersphere. Yes, we need to take social media posts with a grain of salt, but the mere fact people are defending the governor’s deep involvement in the lawmaking process simply underscores how the divisions of power have eroded in our state. Our governor has issued more than 130 executive orders the last 14 months, each with the effect of law, so maybe people have just grown accustomed to him playing the role of lawmaker.
In any case, changes could occur to the budget agreement that was reached before a special session is called. For instance, I would hope to see the provision allowing the governor to spend $500 million in federal funding all on his own be stripped. One person should not have unilateral discretion over such a large sum of taxpayer dollars, if they should have that latitude at all.
I also would hope we could set a timeline for the governor’s emergency powers to be lifted because there simply is no emergency in our state as we continue re-opening. Vaccinations are up and infection rates are low. If a point arises where unanticipated action is needed, he can go ahead and declare another emergency. Minnesotans deserve to know when we will return to our representative system of government with 201 legislators participating in the decision-making process instead of one person calling the shots.