Greetings from Bismarck. This past week was the thirteenth full week of the Legislative session. This week the House and Senate Appropriations committees reached a tentative agreement on state employee pay raises. The raises will cost approximately $84 million, and the agreement signals that other big budget bills can now begin to pass out of the appropriations process. Numerous conference committees lie ahead, but next week will see big movement in bringing bills to the House and Senate floors. There were again minor changes in the general fund budget status this past week with general fund revenues and beginning fund balances now estimated to be $4,066,696,429, a slight decrease of $35 million, while general fund appropriations decreased by $9 million to $4,883,969,117. Consequently, the estimated general fund balance deficit is now ($817,272,688), an increase of approximately $26,000,000. This deficit will begin to disappear rapidly in coming weeks. The general fund represents spending supported by general tax revenues, i.e. sales tax, corporate and personal income tax, motor vehicle excise tax, insurance premium tax, tobacco tax, etc., and it comprises about one third of the total state budget. The other components in the total state budget are comprised of special funds, estimated to be about $5.6 billion, and federal funds estimated to be about $3.7 billion. Things will begin to move quickly in the next two weeks as legislative leadership has pegged sometime mid-Easter week for an early adjournment.
Like the Lazarus of biblical times, several bills which appeared to be dead suddenly sprang back to life this week in reincarnated forms. SB2275, often referred to as Prairie Dog III, would have used Legacy Fund earnings to buy up to $500,000,000 in bonds to finance low interest loans to political subdivisions. The bill was defeated in the House on March 25, but this week the bonding provisions were attached to HB 1014, the budget bill for the ND Industrial Commission. Another bill which would have used Legacy Fund earnings to defray a gradual reduction in personal income taxes resurfaced this week. HB1530, which was previously killed in the Senate, reappeared as an amendment to SB2006, the budget bill of the state tax commissioner. A third bill which was eviscerated and nearly killed in the House also resurfaced this week. SB2268, a bill which originally authorized up to $100,000,000 in bonding for highway improvements and construction in the Corridors of Commerce program was stripped of any bonding authority in the House and then passed in the Senate this week without any funding mechanism. A modified financing mechanism of $50 million is expected as an amendment to the Department of Transportation budget bill next week. The bill targets widening of Highway 85, and the funding, although greatly reduced, could possibly be used to provide matching funds for a federal highway project.
SB2020, the State Water Commission budget, is expected to have a final hearing with the full House Appropriations committee on Monday. Last week the committee increased the Senate funding recommendation for WAWSA by $5 million, leaving it as the only water project to receive 100% of its funding request. Meanwhile, SB2315, the no trespass bill, has had twelve joint House Ag and Energy and Natural Resources hearings, and at week’s end remains in committee. It has been heavily amended and may not be recognizable. Another bill which has produced great controversy is SB2344, the pore space bill. That bill has also been amended significantly, and this week the Senate refused to concur with the House amendments, and a conference committee has been appointed to try to resolve the differences. In other action his week the House failed to override Governor Burgum’s veto of driver’s license fee increases which would have raised license fees $15-$30. SCR4016, which seeks to significantly increase the membership on the State Board of Higher Education from 8 to 15 passed the House and the measure will likely be on the November 2020 ballot if Governor Burgum signs it.
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