2009 Legislative session may resemble a Vikings vs. Packers game


From: Phil Krinkie

Taxpayers League of Minnesota

With state lawmakers poised to descend on the State Capitol next week, there are many predictions being made concerning the outcome of the 2009 session. Upon their return, lawmakers will be facing an enormous budget shortfall of $4.8 billion, the largest shortfall since Governor Pawlenty took office in 2003. No legislator is looking forward to this daunting task of producing a balanced budget by the scheduled adjournment date in mid-May.

Constructing the state’s biennial budget is no easy task even in the best of times, but with a whopping shortfall that is likely to grow by the time the next budget forecast is released in March, it will prove most difficult even for the grizzled budget veterans.

The rosy colored glasses crowd is predicting a budget agreement between the governor and legislative leaders within the confines of the regular legislative session. In contrast, some veteran pessimists are talking about a long hot summer for legislators trying to forge a budget deal that could conclude about the time the State Fair opens.

Having spent many a beautiful spring day entombed behind the Capitol walls working to find a budget agreement, my prediction is somewhere in the middle. A budget deal is not likely before the end of May, but chances of an agreement get greater as government shutdown looms near the end of June.

If you are watching at home, there are several key dates to keep in mind. First, the governor is supposed to deliver his proposed two-year budget to the Legislature by January 27. Governor Pawlenty has stated his budget proposal will not contain any tax increases. This will be a big test. Next, the Legislature will review the governor’s proposed budget, holding numerous public hearings about the hardships his budget will cause.

The key here is whether legislative leaders accept or reject the basic framework the governor has laid out. If the governor’s proposed budget is rejected by the House and Senate, as it likely will be, the gloves will come off and we are in for a tough fight. After two months of posturing and testing various tax raising and budget reduction ideas, legislators will gear up the budget dealing machine in early March when the next budget forecast is presented by the Management and Budget Office.

March and April will be a tug of war between the DFL controlled Legislature and the governor. Some days it may appear that the Legislature will prevail, other days the advantage may be to the governor’s team. In early May things will get very tense as legislative leaders threaten to pass bills that the governor has stated he will veto. This game of dare and double dog dare could continue up until the scheduled legislative adjournment date in May.

Without a budget agreement, the governor may or may not call legislators back for a Special Session. At this point in the process, the governor’s negotiating power is increased because only he can call legislators back into session. This is when things really get interesting.

There is no doubt that the 2009 Session will be fascinating to follow, with lots of heated debate, late nights, endless budget spreadsheets and trying to figure out which legislators are and are not running for governor. But in the end, the only way Democrats can even get close to a budget that they want, is to override Governor Pawlenty’s veto…and that is likely to occur about the end of June, just as the possibility of non-essential state services ceasing without a budget agreement by the 1st of July. This budget process is likely to have an overtime, but unlike a football game it is guaranteed to not end in a tie.


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