North Dakota is facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a record budget surplus and a thriving economy, Gov. Jack Dalrymple told legislators in his State of the State address.
Dalrymple’s speech Tuesday, in the House chamber of the state Capitol, was the main event on the first day of the 2013 legislative session.
“What is the state of the state? Today we are at an incredible moment in our state’s history, and we are ready to write the next great chapter,” Dalrymple said.
Republican legislators were quick to praise the governor’s take on the state’s condition, while Democratic lawmakers questioned some of his budget priorities.
Dalrymple said he wants to “fund our priorities responsibly, build strong reserves for the future and provide tax relief whenever possible.”
The governor pointed to the growth of North Dakota’s oil production from 460,000 barrels of oil per day two years ago to nearly 750,000 today and the doubling of natural gas production. He pointed to such investments as the planned $1.3 billion plant near Spiritwood that would convert natural gas into nitrogen fertilizer.
“With the blessings of rapid economic growth come many challenges. As a state, we must continue to meet these challenges head-on,” Dalrymple said.
He noted the challenges resulting from the rapid growth in drilling activity in the oil patch. Communities have experienced severe housing shortages and overextended infrastructure due to rapid population increases. The need for additional law enforcement, child care facilities and regulatory enforcement has increased.
“Dealing with these challenges effectively and efficiently must be an integral part of our vision for the future of North Dakota,” Dalrymple said.
Dalrymple has proposed 15 new Highway Patrol troopers, additional health and oil field inspectors in the oil patch and incentives for affordable housing. He also has proposed more than $500 million in spending on a variety of flood protection and regional water supply projects.
In addition, Dalrymple has proposed a tax relief package that would permanently restructure the state’s school funding formula. He proposes building property tax relief into the state’s permanent K-12 education budget and called for more than $2.7 billion in infrastructure investments, of which $1 billion would be one-time investments in oil patch roads.
“Some will ask if we are letting spending get out of control,” Dalrymple said. “It has not and it will not happen in North Dakota because we are committed to a structural balance in our state budget.”
Dalrymple took a few moments to acknowledge several business owners across the state, and to recognized the families of Spc. Tyler Orgaard of Bismarck and Sgt. 1st Class Darren Linde, 41, of Devils Lake. The two North Dakota National Guardsmen were killed in action Dec. 3 in Afghanistan.
Dalrymple closed out his speech by mentioning proposals from the North Dakota 2020 and Beyond initiative as well as a proposal for a state conservation grant fund.
“It should be clear that we have a very special opportunity now to create an incredibly bright future for all of us and include a quality of life that is unsurpassed anywhere in the world,” Dalrymple said.
Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said Dalrymple’s statements on education and property taxes stood out. He said the governor’s proposed K-12 funding changes are “going to be critical to property tax relief.”
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, said he felt the governor’s speech helped describe his budget proposal in more detail.
“I think it’s very ambitious and (the) Legislature will hopefully do its job and look at it (all) very carefully,” Becker said.
Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said he is pleased with Dalrymple’s proposal for a conservation fund as well as statements on the need to rein in the flaring of natural gas.
“I thought it was a good follow-up to the budget address,” Porter said.
Democratic legislative leaders held a news conference after the joint session featuring Dalrymple’s speech.
Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said while the governor’s budget proposes more oil tax revenue for in the oil patch, more must be done to assist western communities.
“There’s no reason why these communities should have to come hat in hand to Bismarck every two years,” Schneider said. He added that if more oil tax revenue stayed in the West, the communities wold not have to wait to address concerns they “had 18 months ago.”
House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, said although the Republicans may have two-thirds majorities in both the state House and Senate, “the people of North Dakota look at everyone’s ideas.”
Onstad said he doesn’t expect the Republican Party to ignore Democrats during the legislative process, although they could if they chose to.
“They (the people) expect us to put competing ideas on the table,” Onstad said.
Schneider agreed, adding that lawmakers ought to be making decisions now that will provide economic stability long-term. He said such ideas could include investment in education, a scholarship program for higher education similar to that in Wyoming or property tax relief to families and not corporations.
“We think the force of good ideas can bridge the partisan divide,” Schneider said.