In a pitch to Senate budget writers, Gov. Doug Burgum emphasized his proposal for a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library as a "front door" to tourism and more in North Dakota.
The governor appeared Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, offering testimony similar to that he gave to a section of the House Appropriations Committee in January, as well as a video message in support from Theodore Roosevelt V, the 26th president's great-great-grandson.
He proposes using $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings with $100 million in donations to build the library at Medora and maintain an endowment, noting wide-ranging support, including from the Roosevelt family.
"We're standing at the batter's box right now," Burgum told the committee. "We have an opportunity to hit the home run, so to speak, with this opportunity, with their support."
Roosevelt ranched and hunted in the 1880s near Medora, where he also recovered from the simultaneous deaths of his wife and mother in 1884.
Burgum said the library would be more than books and papers, generating economic, academic and tourism impacts for North Dakota.
"It would be the front door to North Dakota tourism across the state," the governor said.
He also noted growing support, including federal entities, parks and wildlife associations and economic development groups.
"That's the support that we just have so far when the project is still in its envisioning stage," Burgum said. "Imagine the kind of support that we would line up nationally if we have the challenge match in place from the state of North Dakota."
Committee members had no questions for Burgum.
Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, has an amendment to the state Department of Commerce budget bill that would appropriate $43.3 million of Legacy Fund earnings in an endowment of the state treasury for the library "only if" the governor can certify $100 million in donations.
Due to a budget rule change, Burgum's library proposal must enter as an amendment to House Bill 1018, the state Department of Commerce budget bill.
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Mathern's amendment also calls for 3 percent raises for human service providers and state employees in each year of the next two-year budget cycle — about $85 million.
Mathern said he would wait until after hearing testimony and budget figures to introduce his amendment during committee work.
Burgum told the Tribune "it would be premature to comment" on Mathern's amendment, but said, "I suspect that there will be multiple other ideas on how to approach it."
"I think there will be a range of ideas that come forward," Burgum said after his 15-minute testimony.
The governor also expressed optimism after an executive revenue forecast released earlier this week, disputing an "either/or" scenario as to what priorities and projects can be funded.
He also said the project may be probably decided in the final days of the legislative session, which could go through late April.
Senate Appropriations chair Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said committee work on the library proposal will come up later in the session, after feeling out budget figures.
"Typically if the governor has a high priority item, it will always be around until decisions are made," Holmberg said. "It's too early to ask people to vote yes or no on it."
Lawmakers have previously expressed an interest to see the revenue forecasts released earlier this week before committing to the library proposal.
"It's not a money issue. This is a 'will.' Will we seize the opportunity?" Burgum said.