Early bill announcements indicate the 66th Legislative Assembly will be interesting and reaching agreement on a budget will be a challenge as usual. The session begins on Thursday.
With oil and commodity prices uncertain, legislators will have to use caution when spending. Gov. Doug Burgum’s proposed budget takes a conservative approach to oil production and prices. How much of Burgum’s budget the Legislature adopts remains to be seen. The Legislature’s decision not to have his budget introduced as bills will make it more difficult for the governor.
Here are some of the proposals already being discussed.
Just about everyone wants to give state employees a pay raise. Burgum has proposed a 4 percent raise in the first year of the 2019-21 biennium, followed by 2 percent or up to 4 percent in the second year. Republican and Democratic-NPL legislators have proposed pay increases, with Democrats offering $300 more per month in the first year of 2019-21, with a 3 percent raise in the second year. Three Bismarck Republican legislators proposed a similar plan, but with a 1 percent raise in the second year.
State employees did not get raises during the 2017 session, but the Legislature did meet a $45 million increased cost of health care.
Another effort is planned to lift the ban on Sunday morning shopping. Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, has legislation to repeal most of the Sunday closing law, allowing retailers to choose whether to open their doors that morning. The bill also would prevent retailers from being forced to open on Sunday as part of a lease, franchise agreement or other contract executed before Jan. 1.
There could be at least one more bill introduced to end the ban. The Tribune Editorial Board favors ending the Sunday morning ban.
The Legacy Fund, which is sitting at $5.6 billion, should be the focus of a lot of debate. There are a number of proposals to tap into the fund. The original committee that placed the Legacy Fund on the ballot has promised to monitor all efforts to use the fund. They argue the fund should be nursed for future generations.
Funding for K-12 education and higher education will no doubt require considerable debate. Burgum’s budget seeks a 2 percent increase for K-12 in each year of the new biennium, and a $90 million increase for higher education — with $40 million coming from Legacy Fund earnings. Burgum said none of the Legacy Fund's principal will be touched under his plan.
Burgum has proposed $1.5 billion in road, water, technology and other infrastructure projects, while Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, has outlined Operation Prairie Dog to fund infrastructure projects throughout the state by creating new "buckets" at the end of the stream of funds filled from oil tax revenue, capped at $280 million for funds for cities, counties, townships and airports.
There will be numerous bills related to oil development, including new discussion on oil and gas mineral ownership under Lake Sakakawea. There will be an effort to extend the time frame for royalty owners to be paid.
Burgum wants $30 million to build a statewide tracking network for unmanned aerial systems. The beyond visual line-of-sight network would act like an air traffic control system for UAS systems.
Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, has proposed an annual fee on electric and hybrid vehicles to make up for lost gas tax revenue. If his bill is approved, electric vehicle owners would face an annual $248 "road use fee" and hybrid drivers would see a $71 annual bill.
Burgum has proposed building a new State Hospital in Jamestown. As part of the plan, he wants to close the women’s prison at New England and move the women to the Missouri River Correctional Center by Bismarck, and move the men held there to the former State Hospital, repurposed as a minimum-security facility. The plan likely faces an uphill fight.
This is just a little of what will be facing the Legislature when it convenes. It’s a lot of work to handle by the end of April. It’s the second legislative session for Burgum and how the relationship with the Legislature has developed will help determine how smoothly things go.