Saturday, March 22, 2008

What happens if there is no budget?

I have had a request from a reader wanting to know what happens if there is no budget. First, I appreciate the question and request. What follows is an explanation of the process and then what happens if there is no budget.

First, the Governor submits his suggested budget. That budget is then introduced as a bill. This year that was HB 406. It is used as a starting point. Then House passes their version of the budget, which may or may not look anything like the Governor's budget. Then the budget goes to the Senate, who then passes their version. It may or may not look anything like the House or Governor's version. When the House passes a bill and the Senate passes it with changes made, it comes back to the House for either concurrence or non-concurrence. On budget bills, the House historically has always not concurred. Therefore, the bill goes to a conference committee. This is a committee made up of members of both bodies that try to work out the differences. For budget bills, it is always made up of the leaders of both parties in each chamber. They then will either successfully work out an agreement, it will be passed by both chambers and signed by the Governor, or we will go home without a budget.

So now we get to the question at hand, what happens if we leave without a budget? Well, the budget runs until June 30. So if we leave without a budget, a special session would need to be called between the end of this session and June 30th if we are to have a new one in time. Hopefully, negotiations would continue immediately so we do not get to June 30 without a new budget.

What happens if June 30th comes and goes and there is no new budget? As I understand a recent judicial ruling, the Governor could operate only "essential" government services. Everything else would have to be cut. Now the definition of essential may be in question. You have to imagine that the state prisons and state police are essential. We have to keep the court system going. You would imagine that the state parks, new roads, filling pot holes would not be essential. The question becomes from a purely legal perspective, is education essential? How about medicaid? I truly hope it does not come down to that, and I don't think it will.