The big question heading into this week of the legislative session is this: “When are they going to finish?”
Today is legislative day 74. The goal, when the session started, is that the lawmakers would wrap up their businesses on day 70 last week leaving 10 of the constitutionally-capped 80 days in case they need to come back into session to make adjustments.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t hold my breath,” state Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) told me during our interview on Friday (audio below) when I asked him about being done on Tuesday.
“I mean I hope so, but criminy I thought we were gonna be done by tomorrow [Saturday] night. In my opinion we should have been,” he continued.
That was the plan, for lawmakers to work into this last weekend to get things done, but when it became clear that they wouldn’t be able to finish during a Saturday session the lawmakers came home for the weekend.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]”These have been the easy cuts,” he continued. “We’re making easy cuts this time around. And with no pots of money left for next session, next session are going to be the difficult ones. People are going to feel the pain.”[/mks_pullquote]
But there isn’t a lot of hope they’ll hit the Tuesday deadline either.
“There’s absolutely zero chance we’ll be done on Tuesday,” another lawmaker told me over the weekend.
I asked Becker on Friday if he felt lawmakers would be leaving themselves enough days to come back into session to address any continuing budget short falls during the interim.
“I think we’ll have enough days. I don’t think we’re going to have a major problem. Our expectations on the revenue finally after a couple of years have finally become realistic,” he said. “We may need to come back for Medicaid expansion issues.”
In terms of politics a protracted legislative session is not good for Republicans. Democrats are going to be campaigning on the theme of fiscal mismanagement in 2018. Already Republican overspending during the oil boom years, and mishandling of the property tax issue, is evidence enough of that.
But add to it legislative dysfunction? It’s a recipe for electoral gains that not even our state’s hapless liberals can manage to screw up.
Becker also warned that, barring some turnaround in the state’s revenue outlook, the next legislative session might be even harder.
“We are putting ourselves in a position for next session to have a really rough session that will make this session seem like party time,” he said. “If we don’t have a miraculous oil recovery I think it’s going to be very tough next session. There’s going to be a lot of cuts. And the cuts we’re making now, in some cases they’re very good but in a lot of cases it’s the bare minimum. It’s shuffling a little bit here and there. It’s getting rid of FTE’s that existed for people who weren’t really in the job anyway.”
“These have been the easy cuts,” he continued. “We’re making easy cuts this time around. And with no pots of money left for next session, next session are going to be the difficult ones. People are going to feel the pain.”
“We can all wait for the great oil recovery but we’ll see what happens.”