Writing the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2020, has only gotten more difficult with the continued difficulties in the oil patch and the economy in general. It wasn’t made any easier when the negotiations between the Governor and Legislature soured on SB 199, the appropriation bill to access the Rainy Day Fund and finish out the current fiscal year. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a Governor simply not sign a more than $300 million appropriation bill and let it become law without his signature. It’s an especially surprising action by Gov. Stitt, who has made it clear that he wants to be in charge.
Perhaps it’s easy to understand how this could happen. With the social distancing required by COVID-19, it’s difficult to have the normal give and take necessary to make a budget deal. Normally, key House and Senate leaders would negotiate first. Then, they and the governor’s staff would spend hours in the same room pounding out details, but that’s not possible for now. Emails, phone calls, and Zoom meetings are not the same. There also was limited time for the normal “shots across the bow” with press releases and statements to the press before reason sets in.
It’s probably a good thing this showdown happened. The House and Senate asserted themselves with this Governor, which seems to have been rare. The Governor tested the limits of his power and found that when the Legislature is united, he is not totally in charge. This may help to uphold the balance between the executive and the legislative branches and make for good decisions going forward. The first test will probably be the negotiations for the upcoming FY 2021 budget.
Other than budget measures, how much legislative action will occur between now and the end of May is still uncertain. The normal deadline for passing bills off the floor of the chamber opposite its house of origin would have been this Thursday, which will leave five remaining weeks in the session. It’s likely several bills related to health care and other policy bills that are non-controversial will make the cut. Beyond that, one can only hope, without the normal vetting of public policy in the legislative process, that Legislators and the Governor are willing to call it a session.