Stateline Story

Budget Battles Lead to Special Sessions

  • May 16, 2003
  • By Pamela Prah

State lawmakers are working overtime as many legislatures are called into special sessions to wrap up work on budgets and other issues.

Twenty-one state legislatures have adjourned, but governors in about one third of those states have called for --or threatened to call -- special sessions. All 50 state legislatures are in session this year.

Special sessions aren't unheard of, but states' budget woes are making them more common, Joan Barilla, a researcher at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told Stateline.org.

In some states, difficult budget battles are often made even harder because the governor and legislature come from different political parties. That often means either a delay in adjournment or a special session.

In Arkansas, where Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) jousts with a Democratically-controlled General Assembly, lawmakers wrapped up work on the budget and ended a weeklong special session May 9. The assembly's regular session was extended five times, making it the second longest session in Arkansas history. A second special session will take place in September so lawmakers can tackle education issues, Bill Lancaster, chief of staff of the Arkansas Senate told Stateline.org.

There's a 50-50 chance that lawmakers in Colorado will be called back, Senate Democratic Leader Joan Fitz-Gerald said. Lawmakers of both parties have asked Gov. Bill Owens (R) to have the legislature revisit the budget if the budget numbers don't add up as projected, she said.

The end of the regular Colorado legislative session left "bad feelings" among lawmakers, particularly minority Democrats, Fitz-Gerald said. She doesn't think Owens will call a special session unless he absolutely has to.

Democrats are upset at Owens for "ramming down" a redistricting bill that Democrats opposed, Fitz-Gerald told Stateline.org. Democrats have filed a lawsuit to block the plan.

Here's a look at some other states where special sessions loom:

  • Florida's lawmakers returned to the statehouse this week to finish a budget under a special session that is scheduled to end May 27. Georgia's General Assembly ended April 25, but Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) is considering calling a special legislative session later this year to consider not only the budget, but also his ethics reform package, Perdue spokeswoman Lynn Cromer said. Iowa lawmakers adjourned May 1 but will be called back into action May 29 to consider income and property tax bills and business regulation measures, said Craig Cronbaugh, an information officer with the state's Legislative Information Office, a nonpartisan agency.
  • In Maryland, the Democratically-controlled General Assembly met its April 7 adjournment date, but a special session is still on the table. Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R) has threatened to call a special session to re-do the budget because of $135 million tax increase that Ehrlich opposes. While the governor has "no imminent plans" to call for a session, it's still a possibility, said Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell.
  • North Dakota's Legislature adjourned April 25 but was called back into a three-day special session earlier this month to wrap up work on spending bills for education, corrections and information technology, said John Olsrud, director of the state's Legislative Council, a nonpartisan agency. 
  • Washington lawmakers adjourned April 27 but Democratic Gov. Gary Locke called them back to a 30-day special session May 12 to finish the budget and some other issues, ranging from water reform to terrorism prevention, said Mary McLaughlin, a specialist with the state's Legislative Information Center, a nonpartisan agency.

Typically when governors call special sessions, they lay out specific topics for the lawmakers to discuss.