A bill intended to eliminate a projected budget shortfall of nearly $310 million breezed through the North Dakota House of Representatives this morning following debate on the floor, completing the work of lawmakers in a rare special session.
Senate Bill 2379, introduced by Republican leadership, passed by an 82-8 vote and was signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple shortly after passage. Seven Democrats and one Republican voted against the bill, with four members absent.
“This bill accomplishes what needed to be done by taking us to the end of the biennium with a balanced budget. We have some hard work ahead of us, but we are now on course to develop a sound budget plan for the 2017-19 biennium,” Dalrymple said in a statement issued after signing SB2379.
The bill leaves about a $28,000 ending fund balance for the biennium ending June 30, 2017.
During the floor debate, Democrats lambasted the bill as pushing some of the state’s most vulnerable aside while also putting programs and facilities in communities across the state at risk. Democratic efforts to restore several million dollars from previous budget cuts to human services funding were stymied.
Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, said not restoring human services funding for behavioral health, nursing homes and treatment of addiction will create a health care crisis in the state.
“They’re impacting poor, low-income, frail vulnerable people who don’t have lobbying groups,” Hogan said.
Rep. Gail Mooney, D-Cummings, agreed.
“I’m disappointed, and I’m angry, that our state is going to have to balance this book on the backs of our people. It’s not right,” Mooney said.
Rep. Pamela Anderson, D-Fargo, questioned the special session process, saying she was voting against SB2379 since it had no input from Democrats or the public.
“I’m saying ‘no’ to this staged event,” Anderson said.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said the content of the Democrats’ plan was among the things considered when crafting SB2379.
Carlson said lawmakers have a rough road ahead when they return in January, which was why the bill was crafted the way it was. He said SB2379 builds a bridge to next session.
“Every dollar that we pulled, or we pull or we spend now is a dollar that’s not available when we have to make the hard decisions in those 80 days for next session,” Carlson said.
The bill cuts 2.5 percent from general funded agency budgets totaling $152 million, uses the remaining $75 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund and authorizes a contingency transfer of up to $100 million in Bank of North Dakota profits, if needed.
K-12 education is held harmless through a transfer of $44.3 million in Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund dollars; the fund has more than $608 million in it.
Human services is held harmless through $33.2 million in general fund dollars, while corrections receives $3.2 million in general funds to limit its budget cuts to 1 percent.
State agencies have until Aug. 15 to submit budget-cutting plans to the Office of Management and Budget.
Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, questioned whether the public was being adequately served by doing nothing but pass the GOP plan as-is in three days’ time.
“We were here to work and we should’ve dug a little deeper into some of those budgets and in some cases maybe that cut wasn’t enough. Maybe that wasn’t the strategic cut we needed,” Mock said.
Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said the bill was the best that could be done in such a short amount of time. He said legislative intent in SB2379 is that funding to programs that had to be sidelined may be able to be reconsidered in January.
“We do not have time in three days to go through and say ‘this should be done’ or ‘that should be done,’” Delzer said.
Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, was the lone Republican to side with the Democrats against SB2379. He said the state should have enacted deeper cuts such as the 5.95 percent he attempted to propose. His amendment died Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee due to lack of a second.
“It’s backing us, you guys, into a corner. It’s backing the next governor that comes in into the corner,” Dosch said.
Carlson said the rounds of budget cuts are unfortunate but necessary, adding that the Legislature was prudent in building up reserves in a time of plenty in order to cushion a severe blow to the state’s coffers.
“There’s some pain here, but I can tell you it would’ve been a massive amount of pain if we hadn’t properly planned for this and I’m not so sure how we’d have gotten out of it,” Carlson said.