The Minnesota Legislature appears to be adhering to its time-honored calendar this year. It's February, so this is study-the-governor's budget month. Next comes March, with a revised forecast and governor's budget, and more hearings on the new features. Don't look for serious budget counterproposals from the Legislature until April. The long-range forecast is for conflict with the governor through at least mid-May.
That time-honored institutional rhythm might still be deemed satisfactory, if times were good in Minnesota. But in this year of economic angst, the pace seems too slow and the Legislature's role too passive -- or so my e-mail and Capitol corridor conversations suggest. "The fact that Congress is able to craft and pass a $787 billion stimulus package while state lawmakers are still in neutral isn't sitting well," one reader of my column wrote, echoing others' comments.
One veteran lobbyist, a former Ventura administration hand, asked: Could legislative leaders pick up the pace and capture some initiative by proposing their own budget soon after next week's new state revenue forecast? Could a two-track process be considered for the remainder of the session, one short and one longer term? The Legislature must balance the state's books by June 30 and set the next two-year budget in motion. But it also needs to reshape the health care system in Minnesota, this lobbyist said, or excessive health care costs will keep Minnesota in chronic fiscal pain for many years to come. It may take a special session to get the longer-term work done, he acknowledged, but if it bore health care reform fruit, a special session would be time and money well spent.