Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials
Bismarck Tribune, May 5
Legislature efficient, not perfect
Both legislative chambers said “sine die” and dropped the gavels to adjourn the 66th Legislative Assemble of North Dakota on April 26 at the state Capitol in Bismarck. It was the 76th day of the session. The state constitution allows for 80 legislative days for each biennium.
The 66th session of the Legislature was less partisan than in recent years with more of an effort for collaboration. When it adjourned, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, described it as the smoothest under his leadership.
Some of the credit has to be shared with House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, under whose leadership the House seemed calmer and focused. Both Wardner and Pollert made an effort to work with the minority leaders with many of the contested bills involving debates that crossed party lines.
The Tribune Editorial Board gives the legislative performance a B+: they weren’t perfect, but they were productive. Gov. Doug Burgum, in a meeting Thursday with the Tribune Editorial Board, said the Legislature was effective. He noted it funded key priorities such as teacher pay, health care and state salaries. He said there were missed opportunities such as not funding career academies, dealing with the pension fund, tackling higher education governance and infrastructure bonding.
Legislators created a $14.7 billion budget that involves more than $4.8 billion in general fund spending. Quite a change from 2017 when spending cuts were the theme of the session.
They also gave state employees 2% and 2.5% raises in the first and second years of the 2019-21 biennium. After not receiving raises the last two years and seeing staffs reduced, the money will be appreciated.
The Tribune questions the wisdom of giving much larger raises to Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. Schmidt received an 8% raise and Goehring will get 7.5% and 2.5% raises over the next two years.
We have no doubt that Goehring and Schmidt work hard, but it seems legislators are telling state employees that they don’t value their work as much as officeholders’.
Other highlights of the session include the lifting of the Sunday shopping ban. The Tribune believes this action was overdue and we doubt the changes will be drastic. It was a question of fairness and there no longer will be winners and losers when it comes to who can open before noon on Sundays. Another major action was the tribal oil tax compromise which resolves a dispute that caused uncertainty for oil operators. The agreement changes how revenue is shared for new wells on trust and fee lands, sending a greater share of tax dollars to the tribe. The oil industry expects the agreement will prompt additional investment at Fort Berthold that will increase revenues for the entire state.
One of the mostly controversial measures of the session was a bill described as clarifying rules for pore space, or the void or cavity in underground rock formations. The oil industry favored it, but it was strongly opposed by many landowners. The Tribune believes the measure was unfair to landowners and it’s unfortunate it passed. It’s likely to face lawsuits or a referral effort.
There also was a lot of debate over deciding the framework for an ethics commission created by the passage of Measure 1 in November. The measure restricts lobbyists and prohibits gifts, among other “anti-corruption” initiatives. The Tribune believes one of the flaws of the measure is that it relied on the Legislature to implement it. That opened the door for disappointment for supporters.
One of the earliest actions by the Legislature was approval of the “Operation Prairie Dog” bill. It funds local infrastructure improvements with oil tax money, providing for up to $250 million every two years to be distributed to city, county, township and airport projects, such as roads and bridges. Funding will be first available in mid-2021. The bill was easily approved in both chambers and will provide benefits statewide.
Legislators voted to place two referred constitutional measures on the 2020 ballot. One would require legislative approval of a constitutional initiative passed by voters. The Legislature would have to approve it or reject it and sent it back to voters, who could then pass it into effect. The second referred measure asks voters to increase membership of the state Board of Higher Education from eight to 15 members. The Tribune feels both measures should be rejected. We are opposed to weakening the initiative process, which we feel the measure will do. We don’t see a larger Board of Higher Education providing more efficiency or doing a better job of resolving issues involving our universities and colleges.
Minot Daily News, May 5
Local legislators should be proud of accomplishments this year
Taken as a group, sometimes the North Dakota Legislature historically can look pretty silly. They often spend valuable time in our biennium structure discussing proposed legislation which is either never going to happen or that should never happen.
Sure, there might have been a few proposals this session that continued this pattern, even if it is difficult to point out a glaring example that was an actual success.
By and large, though, the Legislature and Gov. Doug Burgum, often on the same page, made some important decisions.
Our local delegation should be proud of - and credited for - doing an excellent job at having area needs addressed. We’re not talking everyday “bring home the bacon” success, which is often open to criticism. No, we’re talking actual needs.
Just to name a few: $82.5 million for the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Protection Project and $100 million for the Northwest Area Water Supply Project; passage of the Prairie Dog Bill which will bring an estimated $12 million in biennium hub city funding to Minot; about $5.7 million in infrastructure funding to Ward County; and $2.2 million for Minot Public School and additional money to area communities.
Additionally, a bill to foster the merger of Minot Park District and Recreation Commission passed with strong support - which is of vital importance to the process. Minot State University’s $710,000 in “hold harmless” funding based on the 2011 flood wasn’t an easy goal to accomplish, but our delegation did a good job in getting it done.
In a visit with the Minot Daily News editorial board on Friday, Gov. Burgum was quite upbeat about the successes for Minot and Ward County in this session.
Minot and Ward County came out well this session. That wouldn’t be possible without our local delegation, the Legislature overall - and the governor’s attention to the needs of our community.
Yes, there were missed opportunities this session. But in terms of the vital needs of our city and county, we fared quite well.
Congratulations to our delegation for a job well done.