Although the Minnesota Legislature adjourned for the 2020 session last week, it is expected to reconvene every 30 days in response to coronavirus pandemic. The first special session likely will be June 12 when the governor’s current peacetime emergency expires and requires legislative approval to continue for another 30 days.
Minnesota’s Legislature is designed to be a part-time operation, with a full session from January to May. In recent years, special sessions have been used to finish up work on budget bills in late May or early June, but the idea that the Legislature will operate all-year is a foreign one in this state.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed the Legislature’s normal operations this session, but it’s also about to change the expectation for legislative service for the remainder of 2020.
While the governor is the only one in the state who can call a special session, the Legislature is the only entity that can end a special session.
Minnesota’s divided legislature means the Senate GOP majority, frustrated by Gov. Walz’ slower than expected plan to reopen many sectors of the economy, will likely vote in mid-June to terminate the peacetime emergency order.
The House DFL majority, supporting the Governor, won’t support such an action and the peacetime emergency order will continue.
It’s unclear if the Legislature would adjourn the mid-June special session or just leave it open and by joint resolution, agree to meet formally on a very intermittent basis, when they actually have action items to take up.
The Legislature also has another endeavor to grapple with this summer and fall, their own re-election campaigns as both the House and Senate are on the ballot in November.
The mid-June special session could see action on a number of items that were dropped at the end of the regular 2020 session, namely a bonding bill. Gov. Walz has argued that a bonding bill should pass on its own merits. But there is growing pressure in the GOP camp to tie passage of a bonding bill the termination of the Governor’s peacetime emergency order.
Tax & Appropriations
The GOP also wants action on additional tax conformity measures and direct appropriations control over the federal relief funds coming to the state. A deal on tax conformity is within the realm of possibility, but turning over the federal funds to a legislative process is likely a non-starter for Walz.
A divided legislature could take months, if not the better part of a year to come to agreement on how to spend federal funds that are intended to be spent now and in full by September of 2021.
The size of Minnesota’s budget deficit is another issue that could emerge late summer as Minnesota Management & Budget division is slated to deliver another ‘forecast-lite’ to the Legislature sometime in August.
The budget analysis released in early May showed a $4 billion swing in state revenues for the current biennium resulting in an anticipated deficit of $2.4 billion when the biennium ends on June 30, 2021.
Walz has unallotment authority, but would have to burn through the entirety of the state’s budget reserve first before cutting or delaying spending in the current budget.
Congressional action on another round of federal relief to the states could add an additional layer of consideration into the ongoing state legislative process.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has made it clear he prefers budget cuts over delaying payments to schools and other entities.
All of this is to say, the crystal ball is hazier than it’s ever been, but school leaders should expect continued legislative debate on the state’s budget for the remainder of this year.
As if planning for distance learning and hybrid learning wasn’t difficult enough, the ongoing legislative process could signal changes to school payments, either delays or cuts, and school leaders should be prepared to act accordingly.
Stay apprised of resources and news on COVID-19 for schools at: MREAvoice.org/covid19