While most of the public was only mildly aware of the budget deliberations taking longer than usual, those who watch the legislature for a living have been wondering what the delay will mean for the rest of session.
In the past, the legislature tends to wrap up their budget work in early July and there is a month or two of recovery time before the fall session begins. This time around, the budget’s delay caused it to push right into what would have been a normal fall legislative session period.
The buffer between the budget process and the beginning of fall session is often a necessary scheduled détente for leadership and members who every two years deal with a political tension that increases throughout nearly every budget process. This session has produced greater than usual political division between the two Republican controlled houses and governor with all sides openly sparring in the press. The biggest divide has been over transportation funding, but Speaker Vos was not happy with how the final days of the budget process played out, where in his view the legislature and governor had to placate a few senators by making late changes to pass an already agreed upon budget package.
Quickly, we learned that a cooling-off buffer was going to be created and both houses have said they are going to skip the session days in September and push everything back to the final week of October. Neither the Senate or Assembly are expected to meet more than a handful of times in the remainder of 2017. Further, there is talk of wrapping up session as soon as possible in 2018 so that legislators can focus on their districts in what could be a tumultuous midterm. Now, if you feel like you have read that exact sentence two years ago, you would be right. The Assembly Speaker wants to push the action and try and wrap up as soon as possible in order to get his members back to their districts and focus on upcoming elections, while the Senate has been a little more deliberative. There are still some items that need to be addressed including regulatory reform bills, the governor’s recently announced “Small Business Agenda,” and a whole host of legislative priorities from the rank and file. But, if it is controversial, expect it to pass in 2017 or not at all. Congress has often followed a model of shelving controversial legislation as the calendar turns to an election year and a strategy to do the same here would not be surprising. The 2017-2018 session will probably not end as soon as the February date some are pushing for now, but it certainly will wrap up sooner than the April dates the calendar allows for.
With fewer session days to work with, committee work will be crucial for those hoping to pass new legislation. The goal is to get your bill in the queue for 2017 because once the calendar turns every bill gets a little tougher to pass.