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North Dakota’s Burgum hits optimistic note in State of State

January 3, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Doug Burgum insisted Thursday that North Dakota is crawling out of a prolonged economic slump and is positioned to be a global leader in technology and food and energy production.

“The world will need more and more of what North Dakota has,” Burgum told a joint session of the state House and Senate at the state Capitol in Bismarck. “We stand at the cusp of a new era in North Dakota’s history.”

The upbeat State-of-the-State address was in contrast to the one first-term Republican governor gave two years ago, where he cautioned lawmakers to control spending in the face of what he called “revenue uncertainty.”

Burgum, a wealthy former software executive, campaigned on a promise of controlling spending and “reinventing government.” He took office amid a sharp downturn in tax revenues due to prolonged slumps in oil and agriculture prices. The state’s current two-year budget was balanced last year through layoffs and raids on state savings.

Burgum’s hour-long address came after the North Dakota Legislature opened its 2019 session Thursday. Many of his speech’s details were included in his proposed two-year, $14.3 billion budget , which he presented to lawmakers last month. The Legislature will use it to craft its own spending plan for state government during the session, expected to last until late April.

Republican and Democratic leaders said they generally agreed with Burgum’s optimistic theme, though much work awaits as the session proceeds.

North Dakota is the No. 2 oil producer behind Texas and production has reached record levels with rebounding crude prices. The state lost population from 2015 to 2017 due to a slowdown in the state’s oil patch caused by depressed crude prices but has since grown to an all-time high of more than 760,000 residents.

Led by its oil patch in the western part of the state, North Dakota has attracted thousands of new residents in recent years, reversing a decades-long trend of out-migration, where more people were going than coming.

“Many of our citizens had direct experience with our decades of out-migration and rural depopulation, and are subjected to constant claims that things are getting worse,” Burgum said. “The facts clearly show otherwise.”

Burgum has said the state has at least 30,000 unfilled jobs.

“Now is the time to redouble efforts to equip our workforce with the skills needed to prosper in the digital economy,” he said.

Not all is not rosy, as drug addiction and mental health issues have caused the state to suffer from a “behavioral health crisis,” Burgum said. To address it, he told lawmakers “we must invest significant resources in evidence-based and cost-effective programs.”

Earlier Thursday, North Dakota Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle asked lawmakers to add one new judgeship in Bismarck and six additional court employees to help offset increased workloads due to previous budget cutbacks.

The chairwoman of the Spirit Lake Nation also told lawmakers that they and tribal leaders should work together for the future of all the state’s residents.

“We have a lot of children who are counting on us,” she said.

Since 1985, a tribal chairman from one of North Dakota’s five reservations has given a speech to the Legislature. It was scrubbed at the last session two years ago because of protests of the four-state, $3.8 million Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Pearson said North Dakota and its tribes have become a national leader in energy. She says it’s important to learn from both bad and good experiences and build strong relationships.

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Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/macphersonja

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