As COVID-19 continues to be the focus everywhere, the MN political landscape is no exception. Over the interim the Governor called the legislature back to special session twice to extend his peacetime emergency powers to address COVID. It is possible he could do so again. Peacetime emergency powers need to be renewed every thirty days and the Legislature must be in session for the Governor to do so, although the action does not require legislative approval.
While there was lengthy debate on the use of the Governor’s peacetime emergency powers during three special sessions, the Legislature also took time to try to find agreement on bonding, taxes, and police reform legislation. So far, they have only reached agreement on police reform and it is very uncertain whether anything will move forward on bonding or tax bills in any potential special sessions ahead.
The Governor is expected to call the legislature back September 11 in order to extend his peacetime emergency powers. While it sounds like there is some interest on moving forward with a bonding bill, it is unlikely to be taken up then. In addition, recently confirmations of the Governor’s commissioners have become a political football as the Senate uses those confirmations as leverage for discussions on the use of the Governor’s peacetime emergency power. During the August special session, the Senate failed to confirm Department of Labor commissioner Nancy Leppink and it is highly likely one or more could face the same fate during a September special session.
This election year, no constitutional office is on the ballot, but the entire state legislature is up for election. Currently, Senate republicans have a 35-32 majority over their democrat counterparts and in the House, democrats have a 75-59 majority over their republican counterparts. At this point all we know is that Governor Walz will be at the helm but because elections in Minnesota have been anything but sleepy, it is hard to say at this point, what the Legislature will look like going into the 2021 legislative session.
Budget challenges ahead
In advance of state bond sale, Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) released a new planning estimates showing a $4.7 billion revenue shortfall for the FY22-23 biennium due to the economic slowdown triggered by the pandemic. This is in addition to the updated budget outlook MMB provided in May which projected an estimated deficit of $2.4 billion for current fiscal year. MMB cautioned policymakers that given the uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last, these projections will remain volatile and the clearest picture of the state’s budget situation will come out with the November forecast.
MDE School Finance Task Force
In 2019, MDE Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker convened the School Finance Working Group to address education-funding issues. Over the last year, the working group reviewed funding streams and identified school funding pressures and is expected to bring forward a set of funding recommendations sometime this fall.
Legislative Committees receive update on plans for school year
Recently, both the House Education Finance Committee and Senate E12 Finance and Policy committee each held hearings to review with MDE the fall school planning guidance and to better understand what funding was coming to school districts. Additionally, the House Education Finance Committee intends on holding additional hearings in September or October to hear from school districts on how the school year is going.
We will keep you informed as we learn more about the election, budget outlook, and news of the working group recommendations. I know this is an extremely busy and challenging time for you as you transition to a new school year during COVID so thank you for all you do!