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Burgum outlines wishes for $1B in federal coronavirus aid, state budget surplus

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Sanford, Burgum, Holmberg

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, Gov. Doug Burgum and Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, shared a light moment on Thursday afternoon in Memorial Hall of the state Capitol in Bismarck before the governor presented his wish list for spending federal American Rescue Plan Act coronavirus aid.

Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday laid out his ideas for how to spend more than $1 billion comprising federal coronavirus aid and a state budget surplus.

The second-term Republican governor's "Accelerate ND" proposal chiefly addresses $697 million of Rescue Plan money, putting $326 million toward workforce and economic development, $237 million toward infrastructure and other improvements, and $134 million toward improving various state programs and initiatives.

"These investments will support growth and diversify our economy, will make our state more competitive, they'll enhance our government service delivery, and will create long-term savings for the citizens of North Dakota," Burgum said at a public briefing. His proposal is online at bit.ly/2ZC3gdm.

The Legislature plans to meet beginning Nov. 8 to divvy up the federal money and to approve a new legislative district map, but it's yet unclear how long lawmakers will meet.

They have four days remaining from an 80-day limit after the Legislature adjourned its regular session earlier this year. And the governor could call the Legislature into a special session, but he so far hasn't shown an appetite to do so.

North Dakota's $1 billion state share of federal American Rescue Plan Act money must be put to a purpose by the end of 2024, and be spent by the end of 2026. State agencies submitted proposals to the Office of Management and Budget that totaled $4.76 billion.

Burgum proposes spending all of the Rescue Plan money now, pointing to plentiful state reserves and the purpose of the Rescue Plan money being "to help our citizens of our state."

He recommended the Legislature use $423 million of Rescue Plan aid to cover projects the 2021 Legislature authorized with other coronavirus money that's now in question as a funding source due to recent federal spending guidelines.

The governor also proposed $207 million in income tax relief, $100 million for economic development and a $100 million shot to the state pension fund, using excess money from the 2019-21 budget cycle, which ended June 30.

It's unclear how Burgum's proposal will be met by lawmakers, who hold the purse strings. The governor said it seems appropriate that his blueprint be a starting point.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, told reporters, "Legislators are the appropriators. Let's be forefront about that. And they want input into this system."

Republican majority leaders and the governor have met during the last several weeks about session arrangements and Rescue Plan ideas, he said.

"I do believe there's some commonality with what (Burgum) wants, but you can't ask me those dollar amounts now because I don't know that," though infrastructure and one-time projects appear to be priorities, Pollert said. 

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner addresses arrangements for a special or reconvened session in November.

Democrats last week outlined their wish list for the $1 billion -- chiefly child care, infrastructure and state-run paid family leave. Democrats hold 21 of the Republican-controlled Legislature's 141 seats.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, told the Legislature's Budget Section on Thursday that lawmakers' sketches of Rescue Plan proposals, preferably one-time projects, are due Wednesday to the Legislative Council.

House and Senate appropriations committees will hold meetings throughout October to hear and discuss the governor's and lawmakers' proposals.

The powerful Legislative Management panel will meet Nov. 1 to advance proposals.

"You can expect during the session to be very, very busy," Holmberg told lawmakers.

The governor said it's "appropriate" for the Legislature to use its four remaining days for redistricting, and "if there's a need for more days or to discuss these proposals, then we'll continue to have open dialogue with the legislative leaders of what the structure of that might be."

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, told fellow legislative floor leaders on Thursday to expect "some long days" in the November session. Committees could work between recessed floor sessions, he said. And budget writers will be working the next month in preparation. 

"They're not going to be out walking around, taking a stroll around the Capitol. They're going to be busy because they've got to come up with a bill to start the session," Wardner said.

Pollert also hopes for an "expeditious" schedule. 

"I love my legislative members, but not that much I want to be here for a month," he said.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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