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House Majority Leader Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, front, and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, update members of the North Dakota press corps on a variety of topics recently in the state Capitol.

North Dakota lawmakers have raises for state employees in their sights as they resume budgeting with coming revenue forecasts.

The House and Senate appropriations committees have slightly different proposals for increases to state employees' salaries, as well as for K-12 per-pupil payments, higher education and disability and long-term care providers.

House members are looking at 2 percent increases in each year of the 2019-21 biennium, while the Senate side is eyeing a 2 and then 3 percent increase.

Both proposals include full health care coverage, "which is huge when we're recruiting state employees," said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, who also said the proposals for increases are likely to come down to conference committees later in the session. 

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he hopes two revenue forecasts due in March will help Republican lawmakers support one proposal instead of hashing it out in a conference committee.

"I would hope we could make a decision before that," Holmberg said.

Wardner said legislative leadership will discuss raises for state employees in coming days and will see what wiggle room the forecasts provide. 

"At this time, I see an increase in the forecast revenues but I don't think it's going to be that great that we can go to 2 and 4 (percent)," Wardner said.

State employees did not receive raises from the 2017 session, but the Legislature did meet a $45 million increased cost of health care.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said Democratic-NPL lawmakers in both chambers are advocating 3 and 3 percent raises, also with full health care coverage. 

"That's what's nice, is everyone agrees on that," said Boschee, who echoed Wardner's sentiments on recruiting and retaining state employees. 

In his executive budget recommendation, Gov. Doug Burgum proposed $112 million in raises, or 4 percent in the first year of the 2019-21 biennium, followed by 2 percent or up to 4 percent in the second year. 

Due to a budget rule change, Burgum's recommendations must enter as amendments to legislation. The governor's proposed raises are not feasible, according to Wardner.

Governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Burgum still supports a "meaningful increase" for state employees' salaries. 

"We'll have to see what comes out of conference committee if the House and Senate aren't on the same page," Nowatzki said.

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter