This is (Not Quite) It. The Legislature has been in session for just under three months and it’s been a whirlwind pace with a number of high profile bills passed and signed by the Governor. These bills largely dealt with policy items that were discussed during the 2022 election campaigns but there have been some fiscal bills passed, most notably the free breakfast and lunch bill for Minnesota E-12 students. Now attention will turn to the omnibus funding bills that will all be released this week and wind their way through the committee process. The omnibus bills will have to be to the respective finance committees (Ways and Means in the House, Finance in the Senate) by Tuesday, April 4. The Legislature will be breaking for religious holidays until Tuesday, April 11, and after that the conference committees will work to iron out differences that exist between the Senate and House versions of the array of finance-related bills and the tax bill.
There’s a wrinkle this year that I have never seen in that the “global” targets that govern how much each division have to work with have been agreed to prior to the bills coming out of each legislative body. Ordinarily, each legislative body will set its own budget targets for each funding division separate from the Governor’s budget recommendations and the final reconciliation between the three separate targets will take place after the conference committee is at least part ways through its proceedings. You probably remember over the past three biennia when there was split control of government when at least one house of the Legislature was controlled by the Republicans and there was a DFL in the Governor’s mansion. Those years saw wide disparities in the priorities of each caucus, which usually led to a special session, or, in the case of 2022, a total breakdown in negotiations that led to a stalemate where no major funding or tax bills were passed. One of the primary reasons for those difficulties was the inability of decisionmakers to agree on a “global” budget framework that would provide targets for the various funding committees and the tax committee. It’s important to remember that even though everyone will have their set limit on what to spend once the “global” budget targets are in place that there still can be considerable differences in the priorities of the Governor and the legislative bodies that can make negotiations difficult.
The K-12 budget target that has been agreed upon is pretty much in line with the Governor’s budget recommendations. The Governor proposed approximately $2.5 billion in his budget recommendations, but the passage of the free school breakfast and lunch bill has shaved a chunk of those recommendations off the original recommendations leaving approximately $2.2 billion. This is an historic budget target and I anticipate that there will be an increase in the general education basic formula and a commitment to reducing both the special education and English learner cross-subsidies. As is the case, however, part of any “global” agreement is the amount of money that can be built into the base for the next biennium. That factor could play an outsized role as the parties work toward a final agreement as going above the Governor’s recommendations on either increasing the general education basic formula or reducing the cross-subsidies will have an impact on the outyear budget. Beyond that, the education-related bills heard in the House and Senate Education Finance and Policy Committees have been remarkably similar and I wouldn’t be surprised if the two omnibus education finance and policy bills are also quite similar. There will be differences, but until we see if there are major differences in which funding streams will be adjusted, I am anticipating a fairly quiet conference committee process with the final agreement reached rather easily. Famous last words, I know.
The plan is that both the Senate and House will release their omnibus bills online at some point tomorrow. Tuesday’s hearings will provide a walk-through of the bills and public testimony will be taken on Wednesday. The bills will discussed by members and amendments will be offered on Thursday and it is expected that the bills will be voted out of their respective committees at that point. The bill will then go to Taxes and clear that hurdle by next Tuesday. I will post a link to the bills with a synopsis of the major elements of each when it is available, so stay tuned.
We have had a spate of computer problems over the past week that prevented me from blogging. Kim has been working tirelessly with both the web host and other folks involved with the website to solve these problems, but it took quite a while to remedy the situation. Just don’t ask me for a recommendation for either our website designer or our web host. We have had a number of problems with the updated website since its launch and hopefully we can get things squared away. So thanks for your patience. Kim and I are going to do our best to get you timely information as the legislative session enters this critical stage.