A visitor to the Capitol in January of an odd-numbered year finds the venerable building in a state of feverish activity. More visitors are walking the halls, more lobbyists are toting briefcases, and more staffers are filling the cafeteria. These are the unmistakable signs that the Legislature is back in town—for better or worse. Before long, the inevitable jokes will make the rounds: the story of the judge who said, “No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the Legislature is in session,” or the remark that the state constitution calls for lawmakers to assemble every two years for 140 days, but maybe the framers intended to say every 140 years for two days. Unfortunately, it’s no laughing matter.
Any discussion of the issues facing the Eighty-third Legislature, which convenes on January 8, must begin with the state budget. The now-departed and unlamented Eighty-second Legislature came to town riding the momentum of the tea party sweep of the 2010 elections, a wave so strong that it produced a GOP supermajority in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers began that session facing a $27 billion shortfall, so they sharpened their axes. They were on a mission to cut spending, and that’s exactly what they did. What didn’t they do? They didn’t fund education, they didn’t fund health care, and they didn’t pass a redistricting bill that could withstand judicial scrutiny. It was a sorry record.
The Eighty-third Legislature should enjoy a much smoother ride because the budget outlook is far better. Thanks to a now robust economy and a mammoth oil and gas boom, lawmakers should have an $8 billion surplus, with $10 billion or so in the Rainy