A LOOK BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE BUDGET “DEBATE”

By Bob Katzen

This was the first state budget in the COVID-19 era and most representatives participated virtually from their homes.

Most of the decisions on which of the amendments proposed by representatives are included and which are not included in the budget are made “behind closed doors.” Of the 778 budget amendments proposed, most of them are bundled into consolidated amendments by category which are then voted up or down on one vote by the House. This year there were four consolidated amendments, and all but one were approved unanimously and without real debate. The other one received only one negative vote.

The system works as follows: Individual representatives file amendments on various topics. Pre-pandemic, members were then invited to “subject meetings” in Room 348 where they pitched their amendments to Democratic leaders who then draft consolidated amendments that include some of the individual representatives’ amendments while excluding others. This year, negotiations on amendments took place in private Zoom calls, dubbed “348 Zoom,” with a nod to Room 348.

Supporters of the system say that any representative who sponsored an excluded amendment can bring it to the floor and ask for an up or down vote on the amendment itself. They say this system has worked well for many years.

Opponents say that rarely, if ever, does a member bring his or her amendment to the floor for an up-or-down vote because that is not the way the game is played. It is an “expected tradition” that you accept the fate of your amendment as determined by Democratic leaders.

Opponents also say this archaic inside system takes power away from individual members and forces legislators to vote for or against a package of amendments. They argue that individual amendments should be considered on a one-by-one basis on the House floor.

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