A measure sponsored by top leadership in both the Republican-led House and DFL-led Senate that would create a legislative budget office cleared its first committee, 13-2.
The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Tom Bakk in the Senate, would create a budget office that would report to and operate under the Legislative Auditor's Office. The proposed office would be charged with preparing reports that estimate the cost of pending legislation, commonly called fiscal notes.
Currently, fiscal notes are reviewed and approved by the Minnesota Management and Budget Office (MMB), an agency that reports to the governor. The actual preparation of the reports is done by agencies affected by any pending legislation.
House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, testified on behalf of the legislation Wednesday and said it was prompted by recurring complaints in the past by legislators, both Republicans and DFLers, who questioned the accuracy of fiscal notes..
"The point of this ... is because of separation of powers so that we can work within our own branch to get the information we need in a timely fashion," Peppin said.
Proponents say the measure would give the Legislature the same power as the executive branch to analyze potential costs — a model that exists in more than 30 states, according to a 2012 legislative audit on the fiscal-note process.
In the past, legislators from both parties have sometimes questioned the veracity of fiscal notes. In 2011, when Republicans controlled the House and Senate, they questioned fiscal notes coming from MMB during budget negotiations. Similar claims of potential bias in fiscal notes came from DFLers when Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in office.
Republicans most recently challenged a fiscal note issued just hours ahead of a floor vote on a GOP-sponsored bill that would revise teacher seniority rules that guide layoffs.
Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, expressed skepticism of the $1 million projected cost attached to a bill that his caucus thought carried no costs.
In 2012, the Legislative Auditor’s Office weighed in on fiscal notes and found that they were, for the most part, prepared with “plausible assumptions.”
It said that some notes could use more explanation, but that in recent years, under two administrations, there had been no instances “in which agency officials or staff from the governor’s office have intervened inappropriately in the fiscal note process.”
Some DFL House members on Wednesday raised concerns about Daudt and Bakk's bill, warning that it may unnecessarily politicize the Legislative Auditor's Office; others, such as Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the creation of the new office would not create added value.
Nelson and Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, voted against the measure, which heads to the State Government Finance Committee next.