Gov. Doug Burgum provided a blueprint for the next two years with his budget proposal this week. How well the governor and legislators work together will determine the success of the 2021 legislative session.
Burgum offered a solid plan, but as always, the governor must negotiate with a diverse group of legislators to reach agreements. One of the centerpieces of his $15 billion budget proposal involves $1.25 billion in infrastructure bonding. It provides $700 million for low-interest revolving loan funds for city and county water, road and bridge projects.
Burgum’s plan relies on using a portion of the earnings from the Legacy Fund to help pay for the bonding, but also to leverage money via matching grants and to secure lower interest rates.
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, also has a $1 billion bonding proposal. Democrats were developing a bonding plan, but now want to work with Burgum and Wardner on reaching a compromise bonding proposal.
The Democrats don’t have the votes to pass their own plan so it makes sense to seek bipartisan legislation. That’s what the 2021 session will need -- the willingness to compromise on key legislation.
The governor’s involvement in the District 8 legislative race has the possibility of souring his relations with his own party. It was encouraging to hear Wardner and House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, express a desire to work with Burgum’s office. Burgum told the Tribune editorial board that he has a good working relationship with Republican leadership.
Some of that’s probably exaggerated, but all involved know the session will go smoother if they can avoid another fight reminiscent of District 8. Burgum’s efforts to get Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, out of the Legislature failed, which means he has to work with him and others to heal hard feelings.
Delzer has been critical of bonding, explaining his reluctance because it’s “making people in the future pay for something you want today.” Burgum argues the state’s well-positioned for bonding with low interest rates and money through the Legacy Fund.
The Tribune editorial board believes it’s important for the Legislature to adopt a bonding proposal to tackle key infrastructure needs.
There are other major issues the Legislature must resolve that Burgum addresses in his budget. He’s proposing $260 million for the North Dakota Health Department with $95 million to deal with the pandemic. A lot of the money would go for COVID-19 testing.
He wants $72 million devoted to performance-based raises for state employees.
Burgum recommends keeping K-12 spending flat while relying on $83 million from the state school aid fund to help schools. He wants to cut higher education by 6% or $31 million. Bismarck State College would see a $4 million cut under his plan. At the same time, the governor would like to see other cities follow the model of the Career Academy at BSC.
Of course, the pandemic will loom over the session. Revenues, especially oil, are expected to be down. It will be a challenge keeping the state going forward while overcoming the economic obstacles created by COVID-19.
Burgum likes to talk about reinventing government and getting rid of “paper pushers.” The pandemic has forced everyone to rethink how we go about our daily lives. The Legislature, working with governor, needs to decide what’s been successful and what we can do differently in the future.
The governor has provided a good outline for the Legislature when it convenes next month.