As the GOP in the Minnesota Legislature drives toward a budget – and does it a solid month earlier than the Democrats managed it in the past session – the Dems’ latest chanting point is that “the budget doesn’t’ agree with the fiscal notes!”
And it sounds pretty serious…
…oh, who am I kidding. As much as I’ve followed politics over the years, as of yesterday I had absolutely no idea what a “fiscal note” was.
I have to confess – I thought it sounded like one of those fussy little bits of adminstrative ephemera that people who fuss over credentialing and rules at Congressional District conventions or take notes on their neighbors’ lawns and home paint jobs like to obsess over.
So I figured I’d ask some experts – a group of DFLers. Senators Dick Cohen, Ann Rest, LeRoy Stumpf and Don Betzold:
Turns out I overestimated the moral weight of “Fiscal Notes” – according to some of the same DFLers who were whinging about their ephemerality last session.
But – what are they?
I asked one of my overworked Capitol Hill friends what the fuss was about.
The answer was something like this: in the US Congress, all financial proposals – taxing and spending and bonding and such – are validated by a non-partisan, rigorously unaligned group of accountants. They issue “fiscal notes” that actually verify the numbers. And – this is important – they don’t report to the Speaker, or the Senate Majority Leader, or even to the President himself (not directly). Their jobs are kept scrupulously non-political.
And Minnesota has no such analogous group of vigorously independent accountants.
So all budget proposals are passed through Minnesota Management and Budget. Which was – back when Senators Cohen, Rest, Stumpf and Betzold were feeling queasy about its fiscal notes – a part of the Pawlenty Administration, with leaders appointed by the governor and who served more or less at the governor’s pleasure.
And yes, today it’s part of the Dayton Administration. Its director, Jim Schowalter, is a political appointee – and political appointees are appointed to help advance the Governor’s agenda. It’s one of the spoils of the governor’s victory.
It’s Schowalter’s job to help advance Dayton’s all-tax budget policy.
Which is why MMB’s “fiscal note” on, say, consolidating the state’s Information Technology (they say it’d take ten employees and cost tens of millions of dollars) goes so far out of its way to discredit the GOP’s budget proposals.
Fiscal notes are a political tool on Capitol Hill. No more.
The DFL would like you not to know that.