Commonly asked questions about the last days of session

***UPDATE: We published a new post on unallotment today with more detailed information.***

As the end of session nears, there are a few questions we hear a lot.

Can they pass bills on the last day of session? Yes, they can. This is the first year of the two-year legislative cycle, so the legislature has until midnight on May 18 to pass bills.

For future reference, in the second year of the two-year legislative cycle (so, in 2010) they cannot pass a bill on the last prescribed day of session (usually the first Monday following the third Saturday in May). And that last day of session begins at midnight (not 7 a.m., like some of us might think). So, next session, they will have until midnight on Sunday to pass any bills.

If they fail to come to an agreement by May 18, can the Governor unallot to solve our projected budget deficit? No. The Governor only has the power to unallot when there is a deficit for the current biennium. But we are still in the FY 2008-09 biennium until June 30, and we do not have a deficit for this biennium. The projected deficit is for the FY 2010-11 biennium which begins on July 1, 2009. (Read more about unallotment in FY 2010-11 in a new blog entry.)

The problem is actually far more serious. If the Governor and legislature fail to come to an agreement by June 30, then there may be NO budget in place for the FY 2010-11 biennium and the state government will have to shut down because there is no authorization to spend money. Or, they may only come to an agreement on some of the omnibus budget bills, in which case only portions of the government would shut down. Minnesota went through a partial government shutdown in 2005 when policymakers failed to reach agreement on some of the major omnibus budget bills. A Minnesota court determined that during a shutdown, the state must still maintain certain core functions and provide essential services. A Special Master was appointed to mediate questions of what qualified as an essential service. I found a record of some of those documents online – interesting reading.

Policymakers can avoid a shutdown altogether by passing a continuing resolution, or “lights on” bill, which would essentially keep the state running at some base level of funding. The bill could keep government running for an additional week, month or year. But remember, right now we have a span of two full years over which to solve our budget deficit.  The longer that a lights on bill is in place, the more concentrated any spending cuts will be because there will be less time over which to spread those cuts. In other words, cutting spending over 24 months is less painful than cutting the same amount over 12 months.

What are the rules on vetoes? Well, it depends on the year of the legislative cycle. We are in the first year, so the rules are pretty straightforward. The Minnesota Constitution states that once the legislature passes a bill and presents it to the governor, the governor has three days (Sundays excepted) to sign the bill or it becomes law as if he had signed it. So, if the legislature presents the governor a bill on Friday, he then has Saturday, Sunday (which doesn’t count), Monday and Tuesday to veto it (or sign it) before it would automatically become law. Keep in mind, though, that there is sometimes a delay between when the legislature passes a bill and when it gets presented to the governor because it can take staff time to get the bill properly processed. That three day clock doesn’t start ticking until the bill is actually presented to the governor.

Also, since we are in the first year of the legislative cycle, the legislature can wait until next session to override a governor’s veto that happens this session. Bills stay alive for both years of the cycle. Special sessions, however, are an exception. Each bill must be newly introduced during a special session and are dead once that special session ends.

-Christina Wessel

About Christina Wessel

Christina served as the Minnesota Budget Project's deputy director until January 2014.
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2 Responses to Commonly asked questions about the last days of session

  1. John Hustad says:

    Christina, nice blog entry as usual. The last time we were in this deep a revenue shortfall, relatively speaking without stimulus money, was in 1981. At one point, back then, we had a special session and a regular session going simultaneously! I remember being at the capitol at 10:00 p.m. on new years eve.

  2. Adam Robinson says:

    This is really helpful. Thank you!

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