North Dakota lawmakers to pitch uses for coronavirus funds

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers have scheduled six committee meetings for this month to consider adjustments to the state budget and discuss how to spend the state’s $1 billion in federal coronavirus aid.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday unveiled his own recommendations, pushing to quickly spend the aid on infrastructure, economic development and other projects to avoid inflation and rising construction costs.

Legislative leaders have said they agreed with some of the themes in Burgum’s spending blueprint, but that the ultimate spending plan could differ significantly from the governor’s proposal. The Legislature controls state government spending and will eventually decide how the money is spent.

In a letter to lawmakers, Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg, a Republican from Grand Forks, asked that they review proposals and “develop recommendations for use of the funds.”

“All proposals received will be considered and the appropriations committees are to build their recommendations from a starting point of zero,” wrote Holmberg, who is heading the joint committees.

The Republican-led Legislative Management committee, a 17-member panel of lawmakers that oversees business between sessions, will meet Nov. 1 to consider the recommendations for potential action during a special or reconvened session.

The Legislature will reconvene Nov. 8 to finish work on legislative redistricting. The North Dakota Constitution limits the Legislature to 80 days of meetings every two years, and last spring’s regular session used 76 days. That means if the Legislature calls itself back into session, lawmakers will have to squeeze proposals for spending the coronavirus funds into just four days.

Burgum declined to say if he would call a special session to give lawmakers as much time as they need to address spending.

An appropriation of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid given last year already has been spent or earmarked for spending. Some lawmakers have been pushing hard to identify projects and begin doling out the latest round of money.

The funds must be assigned by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026, under federal rules.