By Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck
The plan this week had been to give a summary of action from the recently completed legislative session. Obviously, that won't happen as there was no final rush to get things wrapped up by the deadline of midnight last Monday evening.
In fact, the session ended on a rather anticlimactic note midway through the afternoon when, after the speaker called for announcements, Majority Leader Winkler said our next meeting would be on Jan. 31 of the year 2022. Evidently, DFL caucus members knew the end was coming because they broke out in applause when the announcement was made. Surprising reaction, I remember thinking, for quitting early and not getting our work done.
Rumors had been floating earlier in the day after the announcement that a basic agreement on a budget framework had been reached. That was the one item missing that had made it impossible for conference committees to finish their work and send bills back to the floor for final passage. When guidelines from Washington, D.C., were finally sent to the states about the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds, the way was cleared for budget numbers to be set. Now, each department in state government will have its budget finalized by these committees, now called "working groups" since they officially disbanded with the end of the regular session.
In all, 14 separate budget bills need to be passed by the Legislature to finalize the next two-year budget cycle, which begins July 1. Make that 15, if a bonding bill is to be included in the agenda for special session, unofficially set to begin June 14. Usually, special sessions are of short duration, but this one may not fit that mold because of the number of bills needing to be passed.
Questions are being asked about not finishing on time, and the lack of effort to do so. I've long said that hard deadlines are what move the competing sides to make concessions and to compromise. With the governor intending to keep his emergency powers in place, it became apparent that we'd be coming back in June anyway. Because of that, the hard deadline shifted from May 17, the day of adjournment, to the special session in June.
The agreement reached by Senate Republicans, the House DFL, and the governor does move the state to full conformity with Paycheck Protection Program loans and unemployment benefits. However, that won't be finalized until passed in special session, long after deadlines for tax filing have passed. It's thought the Dept. of Revenue may be able to issue refunds without amended returns having to be filed, but that has not been officially decided yet.
To me, the biggest item missing from the agreement was no definite ending date of the governor's emergency powers. Finishing work on the budget was the biggest single piece of leverage the Legislature had in discussions about ending those powers. Now, it appears they could go on indefinitely.