Last week Governor Walz delivered his first State of the State address to the members of the Legislature. Many comments were made by legislators, media, and those of around the Capitol about its style being different than many other State of the State addresses. The Governor, rather than presenting a recital of specific policy proposals, built his address around a number of uplifting and at time poignant stories of individuals who were present in the House gallery.
The Governor’s central theme called for unity at the Capitol in finding compromise between different and often entrenched political philosophies. Although there were early moments during the address when only DFL’ers rose to applaud the Governor’s final calls to action were greeted with standing avocations from all members—Republican and DFL alike. This theme is particularly relevant since Minnesota is the only state in the nation that currently has a legislature in which the Senate and House are controlled by different political parties. Governor Walz’s call was not simply that the legislators succumb to his proposals, but rather for the good of the people whose stories he had told as well as for all Minnesotans, that he was willing to compromise to find common ground with the legislature. Nevertheless, conflict in the final month of the 2019 legislative session is a realistic expectation.
This week also marks another important point in the 2019 legislative session; the legislature operates under a system of important committee deadlines by which bills should have completed various stages of deliberation in order to be considered by the whole of the House or Senate. This Friday is the third, and final, of those committee deadlines. On Friday at midnight all but a few bills are required to pass through either the Policy or Appropriation Committee to which they have been assigned in order to be further considered in the 2019 legislative session.
The combination of Governor Walz’s State of the State address and the passing of the deadlines mark the beginning of the most intense and complicated portion of the session. Under Minnesota’s constitution, the legislature must complete its work by midnight May 20th. Included in that work is the biennial operating budget for all of state government; the failure to adopt a budget would force the necessity of a special session.
Beginning this Saturday, the Legislature will take its typical one week Spring break. The timing of the break is organized to, among other reasons, accommodate the Passover and Easter holiday. The Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, April 23rd. Given the intensity of what will come, this break is well-timed to allow everyone a chance to catch their breath, return to their districts and see family—unfortunately, there will not be much opportunity for either from April 23rd until May 20th.
After the break, the Republican controlled Senate will propose a more limited operating budget then the DFL controlled House. The House proposal will be similar to the budget recommendation offered by DFL Governor Walz. As we enter this last month of the session among the major disagreements between the Senate and House will be: whether the state should create new revenue for transportation paid for by a 20 cent increase in the state’s gasoline tax; an extension of soon expiring provider tax that funds MinnesotaCare; an extension of the reinsurance program enacted to assist problems in the individual health insurance market; required family leave benefit for all Minnesotans. There are many other issues of disagreement so their absence from my mention here is only to provide a briefer overview in this report. I know that every one of your departments and agencies have extremely important matter at stake in this legislative session.
Lastly, at this time it is unclear if there will be a capital bonding bill that survives though the end of this year’s session. Governor Walz and the House are in favor of passing one during this session. This week, the House will queue up for its full floor deliberations an approximately $850 million bonding proposal. However, there is little sign that the Senate will propose a bonding bill. Of course, it takes both the Senate, House, and Governor to adopt a bonding bill. Historically, bonding bills have been taken up in the second year of legislative sessions, however, there have been exceptions and there is no reason why they cannot if they choose to do so collectively. My best guess is that we will not know if there will be one until we get closer to the final weeks of the session.
Hang on tight; the next part of the session is, in many ways, the part that matters the most.