The ritual is as regular as the blooming buds on the trees that line the Capitol grounds. The Legislature is again in a frenzied last-minute finish. A minute before midnight on the final day, the House speaker bangs the gavel on a 90-page bill that spends tens of millions of dollars after precisely zero minutes of debate or discussion, the minority party screaming bloody murder.
This time the speaker was Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, the bill was a jobs package and the minority the House DFL, although much the same was happening over in the DFL-controlled Senate.
Since 1973, the Legislature has never adjourned early during the first year — the crucial budget year — of the biennium. Legislators are human, after all, and even people with deadlines, in this case legislators with a constitutionally mandated deadline to finish by May 18 at midnight, tend to procrastinate and overestimate how much time they have.
Nor was the last-minute flurry mere procrastination. Structural factors were at play. In this case, both Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Gov. Mark Dayton knew the clock was working in their favor. The last two times Republicans controlled the House, the GOP lost majorities after government shutdowns, meaning Daudt was under the gun. By the time they finally cut a deal, there was little more than three days to go.
With eight major budget bills plus another to authorize Legacy spending on arts and the environment, that gives legislators and staff very little time, once conference committees, bill drafting and floor debates are factored in.
Was the House DFL minority killing the clock during the final day, wasting time while Republicans were trying pass the necessary budget bills? Democrats had a lot to say, but the debates were not particularly long by historical standards. Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, had a tart reply to the charge: “We have no reason to filibuster your failures.”
Daudt said the messy end didn’t even rank in the top 10 of messy endings, and Capitol veterans say he is right.
Indeed, here was Dayton’s reaction: “I’ve seen worse.”
Still, there are consequences: There was no time to pass a planned bonding bill, without which a crucial Hwy. 53 project is left without funding. State Auditor Rebecca Otto said hasty drafting of the state government bill means she could be left without audit authority. The Legacy bill didn’t pass, so Minnesota Management and Budget is now analyzing what programs might need to be shuttered.
All of those could be fixed in the upcoming special session to solve the education fight, but this last-minute legislating is like juggling flaming gavels.
The simple alternative that would end some of the hijinks would be to get rid of the deadline, but most people agree that would be disastrous, as nothing would ever get done. As Daudt said earlier this year, no one wants the Legislature to mimic the U.S. Congress.