Thursday, May 07, 2009

Today Made me Think about the Guy on the Left. Who is none other than the late Hank Snow. Hank had some awesome hits during his career, which spanned an amazing 69 years. Some of Hank's hits include "Going 90 Miles an Hour (Down a Dead End Street), which kind of describes where the session is heading as it enters its last 10 days. Another one of Hank's hits from 1955 was "Cryin', Prayin', Waitin', Hopin'," which pretty closely describes my state of mind right now (and also the collective state of mind of the entire lobbying community). One of Hank's hits from 1952 was titled "The Gold Rush is Over," which also has a certain poignancy as I think about the condition of the state budget. One of Hank's biggest hits was his rapid-fire iteration of geographic sites "I've Been Everywhere," which pretty much is the opposite of what I'm singing these days as my theme song right now is "I Haven't Been Anywhere (except the State Capitol)." I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift.

A major course change was initiated by the Legislature today in an attempt to break the budget deadlock that exists between both houses of the Legislature and additionally between the Legislature and the Governor. The differences that exist, especially in terms of revenue generation, between the Governor and the Legislature are massive. To both highlight these differences and create a platform on which the major budget areas left to be resolved (E-12 funding and Health and Human Services funding), the Senate and House have loaded up a mega-reva-spending bill that contains all of these provisions, which went into conference committee this evening.
The bill is HF 885, which until today was a bill containing a raft of tax policy technical changes but is now the vehicle for the lion's share of funding being approved by the Legislature this year, as the areas of Health and Human Services and E-12 Education are by far the two largest general fund expenditure categories in the state budget.
The conference committee is chaired by the same individuals who chaired the conference committee on the tax bill, Representative Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) and Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook).

I suppose an analogy that may apply here, as the "vehicle" has gotten larger is that what once were bumper cars are now full-size vehicles and what was once a kiddie ride of sorts has now been elevated to something more akin to a demolition derby. The vehicles are bigger and things are moving faster and there are going to be COLLISIONS! (Okay, the caps are a bit much).
As I write this, the conference committee is souping up their vehicle to send to the Governor, perhaps as early as this weekend, where it will likely be run over my the Governor in his monster "veto" truck.

Well, I've "driven" this analogy about as far as it will go and I will now speculate as to why the Legislature took this tack in its dealings with the Governor. Needless to say, the Legislature has been extremely frustrated all session as their efforts to bring clarity to some of the provisions in the Governor's bill--especially those relating to shifts, bonding for cash, and use of one-time money from the Health Care Access Fund--they view as irresponsible. Through the use of these tools (the Legislature would say "tricks"), the Governor has avoided raising state taxes.

I'm not going to get in middle of this one, but it's not a widely-known fact that the Senate and House both cut more in terms of state appropriations than the Governor does. It's also true that both the Senate and House raise income taxes, something that the Governor has avoided. The Legislature's problem is that up until this point, they have been able to paint a clear picture of how their decisions line up against the Governor's and what the possible ramifications of the Governor's choices are. And that is going to be the primary legislative goal of the next few days; to make clear the differences in their programs, both now and in the near future, as compared to the Governor's.

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