ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Top Minnesota lawmakers ignored objections of Gov. Mark Dayton and moved ahead Wednesday with plans to replace an executive branch that determines the cost or savings of legislation with an agency internal to the Legislature.
The estimates are crucial in assessing various pieces of legislation and can often dictate their fate. Fiscal estimates come from the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget, while revenue estimates are handled by the Revenue Department. Both agencies fall under the governor’s administration.
The drive to shift that to a legislative unit is being led by Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who argue that the executive branch shouldn’t have sole say over the estimates. Dayton says creating a new office adds redundancy to government and would only confuse things.
The bill that cleared the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee on a 13-2 vote would give the legislative auditor final say over such estimates, relying on information the office obtains from state agencies. A Senate panel advanced a slightly different bill later Wednesday, putting another existing legislative entity in charge.
Minnesota is in the minority of states without a budget office internal to the Legislature, according to a 2012 study by the legislative auditor that found fewer than a dozen states got estimates from an executive branch.
“This is not extraordinary. This is much more the norm about how legislatures operate,” Bakk said. He said a legislative-run process would help lawmakers control the timing of requests to make sure estimates are ready as bills are being considered.
Lawmakers of both parties have long complained about waits for the fiscal notes and having to heed executive branch calculations.
House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, who presented the bill to the House committee on Daudt’s behalf, argued that the current setup blurs the constitutional separation of powers.
“We just believe it makes more sense to get our information independently from the legislative branch and have the governor get his information and his fiscal notes from the agencies that work for him,” Peppin said. “In theory we should be getting the same information from the agencies, and I think it would just give us more ability to figure out what the real numbers are.”
Dayton said the legislation impugns the work of nonpartisan analysts who are insulated from political pressures.
“To cast aspersions on their credibility and the integrity of the process is totally unfounded and unwarranted,” Dayton said Tuesday.
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