With the legislature back from its annual Easter/Passover break conference committees are meeting. Discussion at the Capitol is moving to “the end game”. The end game is how the legislature and Governor eventually, after all the political posturing, resolve the state’s budget and policy challenges by the legislative deadline. Most years people can see how the session might end early on. This year in contrast the uncertainty seems to be growing. The differences between the legislative majorities and the Governor are great; while the Governor has compromised on several issues already on core issues the legislative majorities are digging in deeper and have stated that they are done compromising.
Legislation that effects state spending is judged by “fiscal notes” developed by non-partisan staff in government agencies. Bipartisanly, legislators grumble about the projections, always wanting their proposals to either cost less or save more. In the end we grumble but accept them as the true and accurate guidelines for setting the budget.
Not so this year. This year the majority have passed bills before the fiscal notes for significant provisions were done, or rejected the fiscal notes and inserted their own numbers when the official projections did not yield the numbers that they wanted. The Governor is the only one who has put forward a true balanced budget.
Recently the Commissioners of Minnesota Management and Budget, and the Department of Revenue sent Republican leadership a letter stating that all of the Republican budget bills still left a deficit of $1.2 billion due to this funny accounting.
The Health and Human Services Omnibus budget bill contains nearly $750 million in savings that are either unverifiable or unsupported by fiscal notes. The bill seeks a “global waiver” from the federal government for the state’s Medicaid plan, in an attempt to avoid federal mandates and protections. The House majority claims this would save the state $300 million while the Senate majority claims $650 million in savings for the same provision. This even though the chances of obtaining a waiver are slim.
The State Government Omnibus budget bill contains nearly $170 million in overstated savings. One provision claims $36 million in savings; the fiscal note said the state would save $4 million. Another provision claims to save the state $133 million; the fiscal note says the state cannot depend on any savings. Obviously, those are not small discrepancies.
The troubling thing here though, is that the Republicans aren’t even working within the fiscal note process. They’re instead turning to private companies for analysis. These private companies do not have the full information that state finance officials do. Additionally these companies may present of conflict of interest if they then look to obtain contracts for many of the proposals being offered by the GOP. Whether you agree with the fiscal notes or not, they’re non-partisan, accurate analysis that act as a baseline.
We can’t resolve the state’s budget deficit if we can’t first agree on the math involved. Making up numbers to meet political needs doesn’t get us to a timely end to the legislative session. Neither does the distraction of constitutional amendments move us closer to resolving the budget.
During this important legislative session, I encourage you to offer your insight, feedback, questions and concerns. My office door in St. Paul is always open, or you can reach me by phone at 651-296-0173 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the honor of serving you in state government.