Legislators largely accomplish Minot’s goals this session
The 2019 Legislature treated the Minot area well, say local representatives and senators in looking back on the session that ended April 26.
“We accomplished pretty much what we needed to do,” Sen. Karen Krebsbach said. “We did very well.”
The big line items for the region included $82.5 million for the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project and $100 million for the Northwest Area Water Supply Project.
“The governor expressed a strong preference for more funding of the Fargo Diversion project but the Legislature realized the Mouse River Flood Control Project was far more prepared to advance than Fargo Diversion,” Sen. David Hogue said. The Fargo project received $66 million.
Passage of legislation known as The Prairie Dog Bill will bring an estimated $12 million in biennium hub city funding to Minot as well as about $5.7 million in infrastructure funding to Ward County, $2.2 million for Minot Public School and additional money to area communities.
A bill to foster the merger of Minot Park District and Recreation Commission passed with strong support. The legislation was necessary to address tax increase restrictions and allow the shifting of tax authority from the city to the park district.
Due to decreased enrollment because of the 2011 flood, Minot State University was scheduled to receive about $710,000 in “hold harmless” money but had to fight for it, Rep. Randy Schobinger said.
“Many representatives argued that the flood was now going on eight years ago and questioned the need for it. Being a member of Appropriations was a definite benefit here. We were able to maintain the hold harmless appropriation to Minot State University,” he said.
Additionally, Schobinger said, efforts to lower the reimbursement rates on Medicaid Expansion were thwarted, benefiting hospitals.
Rep. Larry Bellew noted a number of achievements. Minot Public Schools received more money, as did the State Aid Distribution Fund for cities and counties. Area nursing homes, North Central Human Service Center and developmental disability providers received healthy increases. The U.S. Highway 83 Bypass around Minot is scheduled to be completed this year at a cost of more than $15 million.
Rep. Bob Paulson added Ward County benefited from state takeover of county Social Services, which equates to about $174 million in property-tax relief across the state. The Ward County Historical Society also received $150,000 from the state and a $100,000 commitment from the State Fair to help move Pioneer Village from the fairgrounds to Burlington.
Rep. Jay Fisher said in addition to the water funding, achievements of the session include better cybersecurity, a higher education formula funding including compensation adjustments and career and technical education grants.
“I believe the Legislature did a good job addressing the state’s needs. We worked on laws to help with workforce issues, licensing for professionals such as military spouses, and keeping mid career and other retirees and their families in North Dakota through income tax reductions,” Fisher said. “We authorized a long overdue pay raise to Minot State University and North Central Research Extension Center personnel.”
In rating the Legislature’s performance overall, reactions of the local delegation were mixed.
“The Legislature will never be able to meet the funding requests and needs of all stakeholders, but the priorities were addressed adequately considering the budget shortfall of the last session,” Rep. Scott Louser said.
“We finally stepped up and appropriated real dollars for behavioral health that most recognized as a need for a significant component of our population that struggles with substance addiction and other challenges,” Hogue said. “We gave raises to all state employees, maintained their level of health insurance benefits, after giving no raises for the past two years. We held the line on taxes. We did not raise any taxes or broad-based fees except for Department of Health fees for certified birth certificates. We did not diminish the liberties of individual citizens or businesses with unnecessary regulations or requirements. In fact, we rolled back regulation and law for small food vendors and wine manufacturers. We established a foundation to provide for the maintenance of the proposed TR Library and Museum and leveraged private donations to create a game changing attraction to the Medora tourism center.”
“I think we addressed the state needs and wants also very well,” Bellew said. He cited the more than $1.4 billion transportation budget, increase of about $300 million for K-12 education and the many water and flood projects in the State Water Commission budget.
“I was disappointed about HB 1174 that would have eliminated state income tax on Social Security recipients. The Senate watered it down so that only 60% of S.S. recipients will benefit,” he said.
Rep. Bob Paulson said both the elimination of income taxes on Social Security and military pay will benefit many residents in Ward County.
“I believe the legislature did a fair job of addressing the state’s needs. I would have liked to have seen more fiscal restraint in some areas, and I did my best to vote accordingly. However, increases in behavioral health and several criminal justice reform bills that work hand-in-hand with these behavioral health efforts, will hopefully yield great benefits for those in need,” Paulson said.
He also was pleased with the tribal tax agreement between the state and MHA Nation, which he said will bring certainty to the oil industry and will result in increased revenue for the state.
Rep. Dan Ruby highlighted legislation benefiting military personnel and Minot infrastructure.
“In those examples the legislative body did a good job. In the area of finding efficiencies and streamlining government agencies we did not do well,” he said.
Rep. Jeff Hoverson voiced disappointment over the budget growth.
“From a money standpoint, I think it was pretty sad to see how much they took from the taxpayers, mainly because of out of control spending,” he said. “I always thought the Republicans’ bottom line was cutting spending and cutting taxes, and they didn’t do either one.”
He did support the employee pay raises and flood relief funding, though, and was glad to see pro-life bills supported. He was disappointed with the elimination of the state’s Sunday closing law and defeat of House Bill 1228, which would have created an option for local control of education.
“We funded our priorities. We balanced the budget and we addressed some very pressing issues,” Sen. Randy Burckhard said. “We did quite a bit for workforce development, which to me, is the biggest issue we have in this state. We’ve got more jobs than we have people to fill them. Any industry that is looking to come here is going to say, ‘They don’t have the people I need.'”
Two critical workforce bills passed by the Legislature were those that provided for professional license reciprocity for military spouses and student loan assistance for workers in high demand, professional or technical fields, he said. The legislative discussion revealed that professional licensing boards don’t ask or know if applicants are military spouses, which is a situation that now will change and can be tracked, he added. The testimony of an affected spouse from Minot Air Force Base was essential in getting the licensing changes, he said.
“She made the biggest difference in that bill,” he said. “She saved the day.”
Krebsbach listed funding for human services, particularly mental health, as an achievement. Cybersecurity funding, creation of a fund for the Theodore Roosevelt Library and increased employee salaries and school aid were other notable actions, she said. Employees will receive pay raises of 2 percent the first year, with minimum and maximum caps, and 2.5 percent the second year.
Krebsbach said her disappointment was in not getting an infrastructure loan fund for political subdivisions, including Minot.
Not all legislation hailed by local lawmakers was headline grabbing.
Ruby said a bill that didn’t garner attention that will have substantial impact on businesses requires contracts with renewal clauses to make the language conspicuous. Companies will be required to notify customers when the initial contract is ending so they can decide to terminate or let it renew. Many companies are caught by renewed contracts that they didn’t realize continued in perpetuity, Ruby said.
Ruby also introduced a bill removing restrictions that require wineries and cideries to use produce grown in-state. This will result in more and more profitable wineries, he said.
Schobinger singled out an insurance bill he sponsored that received little attention but will positively affect fire insurance rates. It put in place a process by which insured customers who believe they are rated in too high a “protection class” can dispute and obtain a quote/renewal based on the protection class they believe is correct. It gives customers relief while their protection class is investigated but also ensures companies aren’t shorted their premiums for the policy period once the investigation determines the proper protection class, he said.
“This bill was another example of where a negotiated fix will benefit all parties,” Schobinger said.
Fisher said the passage of legislation to create an income tax deduction for stillborn infants will help families while legislation to permit increased livestock production will add value to the state’s agricultural industry. Louser said correcting the extraction tax allocation to restore past collections and add future revenue to the Common Schools Trust Fund and Water Resources Trust Fund was important to the state and Minot.
“I commend all who had the vision to get those allocations properly disbursed,” Louser said.
Hogue sponsored SCR 4001, a constitutional amendment to change the way the state constitution can be amended. He said out-of-state interests are exploiting vulnerabilities in North Dakota’s constitution to export their ideology into the document even though they don’t have to live with the consequences.
SCR 4001 passed, but voters will need to approve the the constitutional change to the way initiated measures are handled.
“It would require every constitutional amendment to be scrutinized through the crucible of the legislative process, which requires public hearings and testimony from the people. It’s what the founders of our state constitution envisioned and required before people were paying signatures gatherers,” Hogue said. “In terms of protecting our long-term economic prosperity, it’s the most important piece of legislation we passed this session.”