The new norm

The Minnesota legislative session ended on Monday in typical fashion for a budget-setting year. Its main piece of business — a two-year state budget — was unfinished. It will require overtime — a special session — to finish the job.

This has become standard operating procedure for the state. As Dave Schulz, a professor of political science at Hamline University notes this week in a MinnPost report, since 1999, of the ten legislative sessions devoted to the budget, eight have required a special session to finish the budget.

This year could possibly be considered a successful session. Gov. Tim Walz and the Republicans in the Senate did reach a budget agreement late on Sunday, too late to pass the budget on time, but the agreement means the final budget details are being figured out this week, and should be ready for the session today. In years past, the governor and legislative leaders spent the first week after the session touring the state to tell anyone who would listen why it was the other guy’s fault.

There are some problems with this kind of governance, however. All the budget negotiations at the end of the session leading up to the agreement, and the meetings on the budget this week have been held behind closed doors, with the governor, the house speaker and the senate majority leader making all the decisions. We will get a budget, but how exactly it came to be is a secret. There’s not a lot of transparency there. If the budget had been done on time in the session, there would have been committee hearings and floor debates, messy, perhaps, but at least public.

Minnesota is the only state in the union where the Legislature is divided between Democrats and Republicans. We don’t know why this is so unique. In the 48 other states with bicameral legislatures, you’d think there would be more divides.

But as long as we are so unique we can probably depend on this kind of legislative session/special session system.

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