Chatter: A Legislative Budget Primer

The Minnesota Legislature is moving at warp speed, at least for a while.

This is the time of the legislative session in which House and Senate finance committees pump out bill after bill to finance state government to the tune of more than $45 billion for the next two years.

Even experienced lobbyists have trouble following the process, so most Minnesotans likely would be totally lost.

Here are some quick facts about where things stand in the Legislature’s effort to craft a budget:

  • Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has presented his full budget proposal while the House and Senate Republican majorities have announced how much each they want to spend in each category of the state budget.
  • House and Senate committees are deciding specifically how money is spent in each category.
  • March 31 is the deadline for finance committees to approve their bills, which legislative leaders say means the full House and Senate should be able to pass them before a week-long Easter-Passover break that begins April 10.
  • Once both chambers pass finance bills, they likely will be different so negotiators will work out those differences. When negotiators agree, and both chambers repass the bill, it will head to Dayton for his signature or veto.

Deadlines were set early this year in part to give time for bills to land on Dayton’s desk in time for him to veto GOP-written legislation and still provide lawmakers time to pass new spending measures.

The state Constitution requires legislators to wrap up their work no later than May 22. If budgets are not approved by then, the governor and lawmakers have until June 30 to pass them, or state government will go into a shutdown.

Lawmaker disputes veto

Rep. Dave Baker is not happy Dayton vetoed what the lawmaker considers pro-consumer legislation.

Dayton vetoed a bill to remove cooperative and municipal utilities from state Public Utilities Commission oversight.

“I, along with my other co-authors, believe this is common-sense legislation to help greater Minnesota residents,” the Republican lawmaker wrote to the Democratic governor.

Baker, a representative from Willmar, told Dayton that his bill had bipartisan support.

The issue is not just one piece of legislation, Baker said.

“From my perspective, this comes down to a deeper issue of a lack of involvement from you and your staff,” Baker wrote, adding that Dayton and his staff never expressed any concern to him.

Dayton said that all electrical utilities need state regulation, and that cooperatives and city electric should not be exempt.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership released a statement backing the veto: “The purpose of the PUC is to protect the public’s interest while promoting safe, reliable utility services.”

It was Dayton’s first veto of the 2017 legislative session, while he has signed a half dozen bills, including one that allows county boards can place veterans’ memorials anywhere in the county. Existing law allows them only in county seat communities.

Weekend warrior aid wanted

National Guard and reserve military personnel should be paid for costs of attending weekend training, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar says.

The Minnesota Democrat and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., introduced a bill to reimburse service members’ travel expenses. Current law only allows the payments for people traveling more than 100 miles from home to their weekend training.

“In Minnesota, 30 percent of all National Guard members travel more than 50 miles for training,” Klobuchar said. “Our service members shouldn’t be burdened with costly travel expenses simply for completing their required duty training each month.”

Trafficking fight grants sent

The state has sent nearly $800,000 to to local governments to improve sex trafficking investigations.
The Public Safety Department grants are to be used for new and enhanced projects that cross jurisdictions or to provide training for law enforcement officers about investigating sex trafficking.
“Sex trafficking is pervasive and it hurts women and children everywhere in Minnesota,” Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said. “These new grants will help law enforcement agencies crack down on criminals who prey on Minnesota’s most vulnerable individuals.”
In 2016, the state reports, 314 sex trafficking victims and youths at risk of being trafficked were reported to authorities.

Mix policy, finances?

Dayton long has argued, very strongly argued, against folding items into spending bills that do not involve money.

For instance, a legislative committee may vote to change the title of “dog catcher” to “animal catcher.” That would not cost the state anything, so Dayton says that type of bill should not part of legislation authorizing spending.

But that is not how the Legislature usually works.

“It never has been done before by either party, so there is no reason to start now,” Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, of the House Ways and Means Committee said.