The most significant event in the legislative session is the passing of the state budget. While passage of the budget is inevitable, between now and then a lot will happen, including the presenting of multiple budget proposals.
Currently the state is operating under the budget passed in the 2016 short session. Theoretically the lawmakers could go home and leave everything as is – just pass the budget the way it is and adjourn. Of course that is not realistic.
The existing budget shows up on presentations as the “continuation budget,” which is a snapshot of where spending and appropriations are currently.
Each session, the governor presents a budget proposal before either the House or the Senate. The proposal takes the current budget and either adds to, removes, or in some instances decreases current spending. The governor can also add additional spending on new programs, initiatives and other items deemed to be a priority.
The House and the Senate rotate who presents their proposed budget first after the governor. This session, the Senate will present its budget first. When senators examine their proposal, it will typically be on a spreadsheet with the current budget, the governor’s budget and the Senate budget side-by-side for comparison.
Before the Senate comes up with its proposed budget, the various Senate subcommittees on appropriations, such as education, health and human resources and agriculture, meet to review the current budget and the governor’s proposed budget.
The Senate appropriations subcommittees typically listen to presentations and do not as a rule make budget recommendations. The Senate Appropriations Committee chairmen – called “the big chairs” by folks at the General Assembly – make the appropriations decisions and put them in the proposed Senate budget.
After the Senate’s appropriations committees put their finishing touches on the budget, it is presented on the Senate floor as any other bill. It goes through vetting in committees, usually finance and appropriations. Once the budget is tweaked or amended and passed out of committees, it heads back to the full Senate for debate.
All bills in the House and the Senate must have a first reading, where they are put into the system, and a second and third reading. The budget is no exception. The budget as passed in committee is debated on the Senate floor, where amendments can be offered and speeches made in favor of or against the spending priorities.
It is then voted on and if approved is said to have “passed second reading.” Third reading is usually much the same as the second, but with fewer or no amendments offered and fewer speeches made. A vote is then taken and if the budget passes third reading it will be sent to the House.
The House then presents its budget, and it is compared with the governor’s proposed budget as well as with the Senate’s. The budget bill then goes through the same committee meetings process, but with the appropriations subcommittees in the House having more input.
The bill goes through the same procedures of being vetted in committees and eventually being voted on in the House with a second and third reading.
Normally it will pass with differences from the Senate budget, so a group of members from the Senate and the House will get together to iron out the differences. This is called a “conference committee.” Once the differences are smoothed over, the final budget is voted on again in each chamber.
If it is passed by the Senate and by the House, then it is sent to the governor. He can veto it, sign it into law or let it become law without his signature.
The new budget is supposed to be completed by the start of the new fiscal year, July 1. That doesn’t always happen.
During the long session in 2015, it took lawmakers an extremely long time to agree on a budget. In fact, they did not adjourn that session until the end of September. It is pretty definite that they do not want to be in session that long this time.d