Budget scrutiny

Legislators plan hard look at governor’s Legacy spending

Minot legislators say they plan to take a hard look at Gov. Doug Burgum’s proposed spending of Legacy Fund earnings but generally were pleased with the budget outline released Wednesday.

Burgum spoke to legislators to deliver his budget address during the final day of a three-day legislative organizational session in Bismarck.

“He’s got a lot of things in it that I concur with,” said Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, listing additional spending on behavioral health and employee salaries as examples.

However, Hogue questions some of the proposed Legacy Fund spending, such as $50 million for a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora. Burgum’s proposal to invest in the unmanned aviation industry is a good use of Legacy dollars, though, he said.

“That’s worthwhile to leverage state resources to try to jumpstart what potentially could be a very significant industry for North Dakota,” he said.

Hogue doesn’t believe the $55 million the governor wants to set aside from Legacy earnings for an infrastructure loan fund for political subdivisions is enough. He will be introducing a bill to designate 15 percent of Legacy Fund principal for the revolving loan fund, which would be about $900 million.

Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, also said he wants to examine the Legacy Fund proposals and look at whether spending $300 million in earnings is appropriate.

“It concerns me that there’s a lot of money coming out of the Legacy Fund,” he said. “If you are taking interest off it, it’s still not building like it should.”

One of the proposals from Legacy Fund earnings is to replace the aging State Hospital in Jamestown, converting the existing facility into a men’s minimum security prison. The women’s prison in New England would relocate to the current men’s minimum security prison near Bismarck. Larsen suggested if a new state hospital is considered, the state should look at whether there might be a better place to build it, such as Minot.

Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, said any spending of Legacy earnings should be on projects that benefit all citizens.

“That will be the standard for how I am going to vote,” he said.

Louser added he has some concerns about the proposed $265 million infusion into the employee pension fund, saying the fund needs to be shored up but policy changes must come with that.

On the other hand, he appreciated hearing the governor’s support for water issues.

“That’s good for Minot too when the legislative branch and the executive branch both recognize that concern,” he said.

Rep. Bob Paulson, R-Minot, said he was surprised that the governor threw out a few surprises. He didn’t expect the governor to champion the Roosevelt library or propose moving the state’s women’s prison and men’s minimum security prison. He did expect and was glad to hear of the governor’s commitment to education, infrastructure and addiction treatment.

“I see those as good things. I think his budget is a good starting point,” he said.

Paulson said he’s not reached any conclusions on Burgum’s Legacy Fund proposals.

“It’s not surprising that everybody is going to be looking to utilize the Legacy Fund earnings. A huge responsibility of the Legislature is to listen to all parties and then do our best to use that money wisely,” he said.

Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, agreed everyone will have their eyes on the Legacy Fund, but he plans to guard against spending any of the principal.

“Everyone that I talked to on all sides tend to agree that whatever happens, the principal is a sacred cow. That’s good news to me,” he said.

Rep. Jay Fisher, R-Minot, said Burgum proposed an ambitious plan for building and rebuilding infrastructure, with good cutting-edge ideas for technology. However, the Legislature will need to take a close look at the Legacy Fund recommendations because there will be other proposals presented and paying for everything without raising taxes can be a concern, he said.

“Revenues are looking good at this point, but we need to balance the budget,” he said.

In a news release, Democratic-NPL legislative leaders said they were pleased about some aspects of the governor’s budget and eager to have further conversations about other parts.

“We see several areas in the governor’s budget that align with our priorities,” said Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, New Rockford. “For example, we’re happy to see the governor propose much needed raises for public employees to help ensure quality public services for the people of our state. His proposal to renew Medicaid Expansion is also good news, as that has been a key factor in maintaining our rural health care system, including critical access hospitals across the state.”

“We do have some concerns around human services and education funding,” said House Minority Leader and Minot native Rep. Josh Boschee of Fargo. “The governor has proposed a slight increase for K-12 per-pupil funding and for the providers that contract with or are reimbursed by the state for delivering services such as long-term care services and services for our most vulnerable citizens. We’d like to see a proposal that makes a more substantial difference for our schools and community service providers.”