By Dave Donaldson
The House and Senate gaveled in their special session yesterday to deal with ten bills that the governor gave them after the end of the regular session. By the end of the afternoon’s floor session, they had already dispensed with two of those measures.
However, the key to success of the rest of the session is how members deal with the most-divisive issue at the capitol this year — the capital projects budget.
The arguments over the capital budget boil down to the presence of three sides mixed into a legislative process that usually has only two sides. The governor this year has taken a more-active hands-on role while the capital budget is being written – and he has focused the arguments away from the budget itself, but to his own agenda.
The most-discussed disagreement is the Senate’s inclusion of some language that – in effect – presents projects in “packages” instead of one-by-one. It’s a new, unproven concept that could limit the governor’s ability to deal with projects separately.
For example, if the governor vetoes any particular project, the veto could eliminate all the projects in that package.
Another type of package would need an external trigger to activate – such as a group of projects that will be paid for only if oil sells for a hundred fifty dollars a barrel.
The House and the Governor say every project must stand on its own merits – and while they doubt the legality of the Senate’s technique, they don’t really have time or a way to take it to court.
The Senate majority, however, says they need the packages to protect projects in their own districts from vetoes by the governor. And they remember that the governor threatened to veto capital projects based on support of the tax breaks he wants to give the oil industry. That tax bill passed the House, but the Senate refused it – leaving Senators to see themselves as vulnerable – and wondering what happened to projects standing on their own merit?
The special session can last thirty days – or it could be over in a week. The key to its adjournment depends on the role the governor takes – and on his ability to convince lawmakers he will deal with capital projects based on merit.