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Much to like in State of State address

Minot lawmakers appreciated Gov. Doug Burgum’s nod to the Legislature on several priorities highlighted in his State of the State address in Grand Forks Wednesday.

Local legislators, all Republican, who offered their thoughts were on board with the governor’s talk about enhancing cybersecurity, financing flood protection, promoting tribal partnerships, increasing military friendliness and other initiatives on which they moved the needle last session.

They also liked his thinking on the state’s oil trust fund, the Legacy Fund.

Sen. David Hogue supported the governor’s ideas for spending trust fund earnings on infrastructure and legacy projects.

“It’s supposed to be an intergenerational fund that will benefit many generations to come. I think that’s a way of saying that we shouldn’t be using it for short-term gain,” Hogue said.

“I was happy to hear that he addressed property-tax relief, and there’s going to be, I think, a number of ideas using those funds for property-tax relief,” said Rep. Scott Louser, who attended the State of the State event.

“I especially appreciated his comments on the Legacy Fund and the need to be careful to balance spending the earnings with ensuring the principal grows to provide a revenue stream when oil revenue eventually dries up,” Rep. Bob Paulson said in an emailed response after attending the event. “My favorite part was when he said we need to make sure that Legacy Fund spending does not grow government.”

“The tone has been set that we need to use that for legacy-type projects, not for the operating budget,” said Sen. Randy Burckhard, who attended the event. “Let’s use it for things like infrastructure, for water projects.”

Burckhard said school buildings should be part of that infrastructure.

“If you could help with the brick-and-mortar construction costs on a school addition or school expansion, that would go far in this state,” he said.

On other issues, Louser added he was interested in Burgum’s inclusion of the new North Dakota Risk Assessment Map for flood risk information in his address because the mapping had been a topic he had pushed against opposition in the Legislature more than two years ago. He also agreed with Burgum that cybersecurity needs attention. Louser, who is engaged in interim discussions on cybersecurity, called it a “big issue that does not get enough attention.”

“I thought the Governor’s priorities were right in line with what he originally ran on and developed following his election,” Paulson said. “I appreciated his focus on innovation over regulation, highlighting iPipe and Project Tundra as examples.”

Burgum’s assessment of industry in North Dakota struck a chord with Rep. Jay Fisher.

“We have the opportunity, I think, in this state to use our energy to continue to increase our agricultural production, and the technology that goes right along with that – the unmanned aerial and its future, and both our genetic development of crops and the production of crops. There’s just a lot of what our governor said that I am enthused about,” he said.

Having recently been to Norway, Fisher said he saw first-hand the opportunities mentioned by the governor to use the state’s natural gas to produce high-quality fertilizer and plastics. The governor’s talk about employing technology, improving tribal relationships, repairing roads and bridges and boosting tourism were all on target, too, he said.

“Governor Burgum has great ability to explain how specific visionary initiatives make the lives of each North Dakotan better,” Rep. Randy Schobinger said in an email. For instance, the governor made note of the Legislature appropriating $28 million to support “beyond line of sight” in the unmanned aircraft systems industry, he said.

“Since last summer 3 new companies have made North Dakota their home because of that vision. North Dakota’s leadership in this industry creates boundless opportunity. That’s the definition of diversifying the economy. And is great news for all the people of North Dakota,” Schobinger said.

He also was glad to see the Minot-area flood control project as a continued priority.

“Along the same lines I appreciate his comments on ‘automatically collected data’ to help us get out in front of these types of potential emergencies. And we’ll never really know how many millions of dollars such technology will save North Dakota,” he said.

Other highlights included the recognition of the Legislature’s focus on tribal partnerships, helping military members and the prioritization of cybersecurity, he said.

“If there is one area I wish the Governor had focused on a bit more, it’s the need for a new State Hospital,” he said. “My tour last session of the State Hospital revealed that we are trying to deliver 2020 services from a year 1900 institutional setting. And the employees need to be applauded for doing it. Every day they deal with dark spaces and areas that can’t be used because they don’t fit with how we have come to develop treatments that work best for a specific mental health issue. It’s time to give them a situation more conducive to the way we deliver those services. I know for a fact it is a top priority to the Governor. And is one that will mean significant spending by the taxpayers of North Dakota but is desperately needed at this time.”

Rep. Jeff Hoverson was unable to take in the governor’s address, but he said he wants to hear more about Burgum’s ideas for transforming elementary and secondary education. Burgum had praised the work of a new education coordinating council, but Hoverson, a strong advocate for local citizen control over schools, voiced caution about a centralized system. However, he added he supports efforts to improve schools, citing falling student proficiency scores in the state.

Hogue agreed with the governor regarding expanding technical education and capitalizing on energy opportunities. He said the state should pursue and subsidize, if necessary, the use of the state’s abundant natural gas supplies in electrical generation.

He said the state needs to go beyond the recent legislative actions to ease job licensing and remove taxes on retiree pay in increasing its military friendliness.

“There’s just so many retention opportunities there that we need to harness,” he said. “They are, obviously, good, responsible citizens that we should want to try to retain as much as possible.”

Burgum recognized Mary Beth Goodman of Minot Air Force Base, who is a professional counselor, for her work in persuading the Legislature to relax restrictions that made it difficult for military spouses holding professional licenses in other states to work in North Dakota. Minot also was represented at the event by the Jim Hill Middle School band, which holds the designation as the Governor’s Band.

Dem-NPL leadership wants Republicans held accountable

GRAND FORKS — The Democratic-NPL House and Senate leadership have called for Gov. Doug Burgum to hold his party accountable to fulfilling many of the initiatives he talked about during his State of the State address, including meeting behavioral health needs, maintaining quality education and investing in infrastructure projects.

“As the leader of his party, he has a lot to do to bring his fellow Republicans along. He can’t support candidates who aren’t supporting the vision he’s presenting, much of which we agree with. There are too many idealogues who are voting for their self-interest versus what’s best for their communities and North Dakota. Voters in rural communities are paying for services that exist, but they don’t have access to them. That needs to change,” said House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo.

“The reality is that taxes have gone up in most communities. The political subdivisions have had to pick up the burden and put it on their local taxpayers,” said Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford. “There’s so many taxes out there that we need to consider, but I don’t see a long-term vision for North Dakota right now.”

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