BISMARCK, N.D. - With just under three hours to spare, the North Dakota Legislature put the longest regular session in modern state history to bed shortly before sunrise Saturday.
The 2013 Legislature adjourned shortly after 4:30 a.m. Saturday on the 80th and final day of the session.
It was the first time in state history the Legislature had met for the full 80 days allowed under state constitution. The previous record was 79 days, set in 2009.
Legislators began the day with 10 bills remaining. During the course of the marathon finale, lawmakers put the final touches on the largest round of tax cuts in state history. They also passed record spending packages for kindergarten through grade 12 and higher education.
“I truly believe it will go down as one of, if not the greatest, session in state history,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said following adjournment.
All in all, lawmakers passed more than $1.1 billion in tax cuts during the session with more than $860 million of the total coming in the form of property tax cuts approved on the final day.
The final scramble also included balancing the largest budget gap in state history during the session’s final week. Lawmakers faced a budget gap as high as $1.3 billion at one point mid-week before balancing the books.
The North Dakota Legislative Council released a final 2013-15 biennium budget estimate early Saturday morning. A general fund ending-fund balance of just more than $87 million is projected by June 30, 2015.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said he thought the work lawmakers had done was commendable, passing record budgets as well as record tax relief to the people of North Dakota.
“The number of days aren’t important. The end result is important,” Carlson said. “Overall, I would rate this as an excellent session.”
Lawmakers approved a higher education budget containing $896.3 million in general fund dollars, with a new performance-based formula that provides funding based on the number of credit hours completed rather than on student enrollment.
A record K-12 education funding bill received a final seal of approval early Saturday morning. It capped a day-long set of negotiations between both chambers after the House rejected the original K-12 funding formula bill.
As part of a compromise, the bill rejected by the House was placed in the Department of Public Instruction budget late Friday night. The total DPI budget contains more than $1.7 billion in spending and includes just shy of $660 million in property tax relief.
The final catch-all bill, the budget for the Office of Management and Budget, was passed shortly after 4 a.m. Leaders of both chambers gave farewell speeches before they adjourned.
Democratic-NPL Party leaders were not as impressed with the session as the GOP majority was.
“The action of our Legislature this session should be measured against our unlimited potential that has arisen as part of the development of our natural resources,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said in a post-session press conference. “By that measure, this session was one of misplaced priorities and squandered opportunities.”
He said lawmakers could have taken the $250 million passed for personal and corporate income tax cuts toward further property tax relief. Schneider also spoke against the two bills that were defeated which would have cut the state’s oil extraction tax.
House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, said the Democrats had positively impacted policy in the state.
“We helped ensure a lasting harvest when it comes to the one-time oil revenue our state is collecting,” Onstad said, in reference to preserving the oil extraction tax. He added that the state had passed Medicaid expansion, which will provide health care to tens of thousands of additional North Dakotans.
Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, said she was happy with the results of her freshman session.
“It was far more fun than I thought it would be. I was really nervous that I would not enjoy it, or would not be good at it,” Poolman said.
Poolman, an English teacher at Century High School, said as a freshman legislator “it’s like I’ve gone from being a teacher to being a student.”
She said she was proud of the spending bills and tax packages that were passed.
“I came in wanting to achieve a balance. We have invested in western North Dakota, in education (and) we have given significant relief to (the) taxpayers of North Dakota,” Poolman said.
“It’s a nice warm, fuzzy feeling when everything comes together,” said Rep. Michael Brandenburg, R-Edgeley. “We accomplished property tax relief, education, infrastructure (bills). We’ve done some really great things for state of North Dakota,” Brandenburg said. “(We) had to stay a little bit later, but we’re all holding hands now. That’s what it’s all about: getting the work done.”
(Steve Andrist contributed to this story.)
BISMARCK, N.D. - Lawmakers were working into the early morning hours Saturday to complete their work on the 80th and final day of the 2013 North Dakota Legislature.
As of 11 p.m. Friday, legislators still had amendments being finalized on the last three bills of the session.
The Legislature is limited to 80 days every two years by the state constitution. This session is the first time in modern state history the Legislature has gone to the 80-day limit.
The previous record was 79 days in 2009.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, updated members of the chamber during a brief 9 p.m. floor session.
Carlson said almost the entire kindergarten through grade 12 education funding bill that had been voted down Friday morning in the House had been moved into the Department of Public Instruction budget.
The DPI budget, House Bill 1013, would set the number of mills used to calculate a district’s state aid.
“It’ll be at 60 mills,” Carlson said.
It had been a major sticking point between the House and Senate. The Senate had wanted the number of mills set at 50, which was what was recommended by the governor, while the House wanted it at 70 mills.
Carlson said setting the rate at 60 mills would provide $657 million in property tax relief into the DPI budget. It was a reduction from the $714 million in the original K-12 bill that died in the House on Friday morning.
Senate Bill 2036, a property tax relief bill, would have $200 million in it.
The final catch — the bill that would be brought up for debate after HB1013 and SB2036 — was the budget bill for the Office of Management and Budget.
“We need to reconcile that down,” Carlson said.
A conference committee began meeting on the OMB budget, House Bill 1015, at 9:30 p.m.
Carlson told lawmakers it would take time for the Legislative Council to finish drafting up the amendments in order to bring the K-12 and property tax bills to the floor, with the OMB budget to follow shortly thereafter.
“It could take two hours, it could take four hours,” Carlson said. “It’s going to be midnight, one o’clock.”
Once passed, Carlson said, an ending general fund balance for the 2013-15 biennium was expected to be somewhere between $85 million and $90 million. In addition, a total of nearly $660 million would be held in the Strategic Improvements and Investments Fund.
The $857 million in property tax reduction would be in addition to $250 million in individual and corporate tax cuts approved in the session’s final days.
“Hopefully, we’re setting ourselves up for a very successful future,” Carlson said.
Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said it was a stark change from the contentious debate that had started the day off poorly more than 12 hours earlier.
After gaveling in at 8 a.m., the House had voted to reconsider House Bill 1319, the original K-12 funding formula. The reconsideration was successful and the House killed the bill on a 46-46 vote.
The House had then sent an earlier version on SB2036 over to the Senate with nearly $750 million in property tax reductions in it.
The morning’s votes had led to meetings and efforts to work on a compromise throughout the day.
Nathe said the compromise was suitable.
“HB1319 lives, but it’s in DPI,” Nathe said. “Ninety-nine percent’s all back in there. I’m actually quite happy.”