Despite pleas from backers of the massive Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion, North Dakota House lawmakers passed a large water budget bill that fell short of funding requests from project supporters Friday.
The bill bumps up the state's long-term commitment to the diversion from $570 million to $750 million. The Diversion Authority and Gov. Doug Burgum have sought language showing the Legislature intends to spend $870 million on the project protecting the state's largest metro area from flooding.
The House's approval of the budget bill is the last major hurdle before it goes to Burgum. Lawmakers have speculated that the Republican governor, a former software executive from Fargo, may veto the package if it doesn't contain enough money for the diversion.
Emails obtained by Forum News Service Thursday showed diversion supporters were gathering support to sustain a veto, but mixed messages from Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney may have pulled out the rug from under that plan.
The House passed the water budget bill in a 61-31 vote Friday morning, which would fall short of a two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a Burgum veto. Fargo lawmakers largely voted against the bill.
That included Rep. Thomas Beadle, R-Fargo, who warned lawmakers that falling short of $870 million could put the burden on local property taxpayers.
"The $870 million from the state is necessary in order to ensure that we don't have to leverage $120 million of property tax on a quarter of the citizens in the state of North Dakota," Beadle said. "If we don't put the intent language in now, we're certainly going to have to come back and work for it next time."
In emailed responses sent through a city spokesman Thursday, Mahoney said "any additional discussion related to changing the financial plan for the project is premature until final action has been taken in Bismarck" and after discussions with advisers.
Diversion supporters have sought a larger commitment from the state of North Dakota after overall costs increased to $2.75 billion. The higher price tag was due to delays and design changes meant to satisfy Minnesota officials, who granted a permit late last year.
Burgum's spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, said the governor didn't have any additional comment Friday. But Nowatzki argued that the state's percentage share of the diversion's cost would still be well below other recently approved flood projects even if lawmakers went to $870 million.