North Dakota legislators made a rule change in the moments before Gov. Doug Burgum delivered his budget proposal on Wednesday that the governor questioned but a House leader described as a housekeeping matter.
Burgum, in an editorial board meeting with the Bismarck Tribune, said the House Appropriations Committee made a procedural change that will affect how details of his budget are presented to legislators.
The change means Burgum’s budget proposal will not receive a bill number or a hearing, but the information will still be provided to legislators, said Office of Management and Budget Director Joe Morrissette.
Burgum called the last-minute rule change “a point of curiosity to see where it goes.”
Burgum expressed concern that the change would lead to less transparency to the public about the details of his budget and said it was a change from how previous governors’ proposals have been treated.
“Today, it was we’ll take it and file it,” Burgum said.
Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the change is a “housekeeping” matter to eliminate killing executive budget bills, which are often filed as a second set of bills with other appropriations bills.
Delzer also said legislators have been slowly “working towards this position” as a body for years.
The executive branch has legislatively granted authority to introduce appropriations bills and may view the rule change as an “infringement” on its authority, according to Delzer.
“I can’t speak for them, but my guess would be they look at it as an infringement of their executive power, as where we look at it as the Legislature granted them that authority to introduce those bills, and we’re just taking that back,” Delzer said.
Morrissette said the change represents “a technical change in how bills are drafted and how amendments will look.”
“There really isn’t, as far as we’re concerned, any change,” Delzer said.
The rule change follows a North Dakota Supreme Court lawsuit over the governor’s veto authority and several spending provisions in appropriations bills from 2017 sent up from the legislative Budget Section.
Burgum said he believes the change was led by a small number of legislators and some may not have understood what they were voting on. Burgum’s office emphasized the governor has “great relationships” with 95 percent of legislators.