A primer for 2010 session
The 2010 session of the Minnesota Legislature, the second session of the 2009-10 legislative biennium, began Thurday. The second session of the biennium is usually shorter in length than the first session and is focused primarily on the bonding b...
The 2010 session of the Minnesota Legislature, the second session of the 2009-10 legislative biennium, began Thurday. The second session of the biennium is usually shorter in length than the first session and is focused primarily on the bonding bill -- the bill the state passes every two years to fund capital projects for Minnesota colleges and universities, prisons, parks and recreation areas, and other publicly owned infrastructure.
While legislators will indeed focus intently on passing the bonding bill in 2010, other issues will also be top-of-mind and have a major impact on what unfolds in St. Paul.
Once again, the state is facing another budget deficit. In December, state finance officials said the deficit for the current two-year budget is $1.2 billion. The Minnesota Constitution requires a balanced state budget, so legislators and the governor must take action this year to eliminate the shortfall. In past sessions (see the next section of this column), bringing the state's budget back into balance has proven to be a very difficult task.
Last session, with legisla-tors and the governor at a standstill over how to balance the budget, Gov. Pawlenty -- in an unprecedented and controversial move -- decided to balance the budget himself through an emergency budget-cutting process called unallotment. However, late last year, in response to a lawsuit filed by six individuals whose govern-ment services were cut as a result of unallotment, a Ram-sey County judge ruled that Pawlenty overstepped his authority in balancing the budget without input from the Legislature. The ramifica-tions of the judge's ruling are huge, as it could eventually require all $2.7 billion in bud-get cuts enacted by the gover-nor last year to be restored. This would throw the state budget deeper into the red. The governor is appealing the judge's ruling, and the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case on March 15.
As mentioned as the begin-ning of this column, legisla-tors will pass a bonding bill this year (which must be pas-sed with three-fifths of the Legislature approving). Gov. Pawlenty will then choose to sign the bill in its entirety or veto all or parts of the bill. Re-cent bonding bills passed by the Legislature have ap-proached or exceeded $1 bil-lion. While some legislators will argue that a bill of this magnitude is needed in 2010 to create jobs and stimulate the economy, others will say it is fiscally irresponsible to pass a $1 billion bonding bill when the state has a budget deficit and families are strug-gling to make ends meet. Arguments will also be made over whether certain projects included in the bill are legitimate state expenditures or "pork" projects designed to win the votes of certain legislators and aid the re-election campaigns of vulnerable incumbents.
When Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced last year that he would not seek a third term, numerous legislators from both sides of the aisle immed-iately began jockeying for po-tential gubernatorial runs. Currently, some two dozen candidates are in the race, many of them sitting legisla-tors in leadership roles. In the spring, while trying to bring the session to a successful conclusion, these legislators and other gubernatorial candidates will also vie for the endorsement of the activists that make up the bases of their respective political parties. The endorsement process will be heated and intensely competitive, with the candidates doing everything they can to appeal politically to party activists. What legislation gets debated and ultimately passed this session will, without a doubt, be connected to and impacted by the gubernatorial campaign. Of course, the potential campaign for president being weighed (or conducted, depending on your point of view) by Gov. Pawlenty will also be a factor.
Whatever happens at the Capitol this session, you can bet that the Center for Rural Policy and Development will be following matters closely and keeping our members up-to-date on legislation impacting rural Minnesota.
Brad Finstad is executive di-rector of the Center for Rural Policy and Development, a St. Peter, Minn.-based private, not-for-profit policy research organization dedicated to ben-efiting Minnesota by providing its policymakers with an unbia-sed evaluation of issues from a rural perspective.