There are just about six weeks left in the legislative session…and there is still a lot that needs to happen.
So far, things have been proceeding the way they normally do. If anything, the process may be a tad ahead of normal. The Governor released his initial budget proposal back in January and updated his proposal in mid-March to reflect the February Forecast – that’s standard procedure. The House and Senate have both released their spending targets for the budget divisions. That feels a little quicker than normal.
Here’s what we know about what comes next: the schedule will be grueling. Back in February I blogged on the committee deadlines set by the House and Senate – let’s take a look at where we are in that process.
Now that committees have their targets – it’s time to start putting together the omnibus budget and tax bills. The Senate E-12 Education committee is leading the pack – their bill is already nearing the Senate floor. The House Property Tax Division has already passed their part of the tax bill on to the full tax committee. But we are going to see a rash of omnibus budget bills emerging in the next two weeks. That’s because all budget bills must be passed out of their budget committees and on the way to the House or Senate Finance committees by Thursday, April 16 (that’s known as the Third Deadline).
But time is very tight because between now and that deadline the House and Senate will be shutting down for several days to recognize the Easter/Passover holiday. There will be no committee hearings April 8th (Wednesday) through the 13th (Monday). That’s great news for those of us who need to catch up on scheduling car repairs or doctor’s appointments…but it gives legislators very few working days to complete a very significant task.
The next important date to remember is Wednesday, April 22 (the Fourth Deadline). By that date, the House and Senate Finance committees (and Ways and Means in the House) and the House and Senate Tax committees need to have processed the omnibus bills. In other words, by April 22, all the omnibus budget and tax bills should be ready for action on the House and Senate floor. That’s less than three weeks from today, folks.
Of course, we know that the House and Senate are going to have different ideas for how to solve the deficit. You know what that means: conference committees. However, the legislature is giving itself just 15 days (including week-ends) to pass all those omnibus bills off the House and Senate floor, appoint conference committees, come to an agreement on new targets for the conference committees and then assemble compromise omnibus bills. By Thursday, May 7, the conference committee omnibus bills must be back on the House and Senate floor for final passage.
I don’t know if this is officially stated anywhere, but I’ve heard the goal is to have all the bills delivered to the Governor by May 12. That’s very important because it leaves the legislature with enough time to try an override should the Governor decide to veto any of the bills. If they wait too much past that date, the Governor has the ability to “veto” a bill just by doing nothing.
Two more very real deadlines facing policymakers:
May 18 – the constitutionally determined last day of the legislative session. This is the first year of the two-year legislative cycle, so the legislature has until midnight on May 18 to pass bills. Once the regular session ends, the Governor does have the power to call the legislature back into special session at any time.
June 30 – the final day of the biennium. If bills haven’t been passed authorizing state agencies to keep spending, then government will have to shut down.
One thing this schedule leaves little time for – working out a compromise with the Governor.