Much progress made; opportunities for bold investment remain
As the halls of the state Capitol turn quiet for a few days during the Legislature’s mid-session break, it’s a good time to share a quick progress report with North Dakota citizens.
We entered this session with a forward-looking plan that addressed North Dakota’s workforce challenges, provided increased funding for our biggest needs and recommended bold investments to position our state and its residents for a prosperous future.
We delivered a fiscally conservative and structurally sound budget that improved transparency and replenished reserves – all without raising taxes.
Working with our legislative partners, we’re making progress toward these goals.
Funding is moving forward to build a first-in-the-nation, statewide air traffic control network for unmanned aerial systems. This will cement North Dakota’s leadership status in UAS, which will diversify our economy and support our two largest industries, agriculture and energy.
This past week, the House advanced an income tax exemption for military retirement pay, while the Senate approved license reciprocity for military spouses, recognizing that solving our workforce challenges will require multiple approaches – including making North Dakota a more military-friendly state.
With bipartisan support from leaders in both chambers, we’re making progress on updating how the state and Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation split revenues from oil and gas activity on trust and fee lands. This agreement will help create a stable tax environment to attract more energy development investment to North Dakota and the MHA Nation, and continue our momentum on strengthening state-tribal relations.
Lawmakers also have advanced proposals for much-needed expanded services for behavioral health and addiction recovery, increased investment in cybersecurity, a redesigned delivery system for social services and on-time funding for growing K-12 school districts. Senate lawmakers have proposed increases of 2 percent and 3 percent for long-term care providers, as well as our recommended increases in home-based care funding.
The opportunity to make wise, bold investments for North Dakota’s future without growing government remains within our grasp, as long as we can resist the false choices raised by critics who insist we must decide between increased funding for priorities and making strategic, one-time investments with high returns. The truth is, we can – and should – do both.
Revised revenue forecasts in March will provide a clearer picture of how much more revenue will be available for the 2019-21 biennium. Even ahead of the new revenue forecast, over $500 million is now available for appropriation after lawmakers declined our fiscally conservative proposals to shore up the state’s unfunded $1 billion pension liability with $265 million in oil tax revenue and transfer $315 million in oil tax revenue to fully replenish the rainy-day Budget Stabilization Fund – though we hope both proposals can be restored at least in part.
In addition, $250 million in the “Operation Prairie Dog” bill that sailed through the House this past week – if used wisely to repair, replace and upgrade existing local infrastructure – has the potential to ease the local property tax burden and ensure North Dakota is full of healthy, vibrant communities that can attract a 21st century workforce.
Legacy Fund investments such as the UAS network, infrastructure revolving loan funds, a transformative Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Medora, and career and technical education-based “career academies” across the state will diversify our economy, boost tourism and create new paths for our young people to enter the workforce.
North Dakota is blessed with tremendous people and natural resources. Working together, we can unleash our state’s unlimited potential and start building an even stronger legacy for future generations.
Doug Burgum is the Governor of North Dakota.