Greetings from Bismarck. The 66th North Dakota Legislative session cruised to a calm sine die adjournment around 10:00PM on Friday, the 76th day. It was an uneventful closing with no major last-minute controversies. General fund appropriations were $4.843 billion, an increase of $533 million over the previous biennium. The total state budget for the upcoming biennium is $14.690 billion, an increase of $1.137 billion. In addition to the general fund revenues, special and federal funds were $9.847 billion, and a $764.4 million transfer was made from the Strategic Investment and Infrastructure Fund. The ending fund balance at the end of the next biennium is estimated to be $44.396 million. The Legislature saved four days to reconvene during the interim if necessary.
There was a fair amount of excitement on Friday as Governor Burgum signed the appropriation bill for his office which contained funding for the hotly debated Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum at Medora. Burgum had listed the project as his top priority for the session, but it became controversial and several bills containing funding for the library failed before it was successfully attached as an amendment to his office budget. As funded, the bill creates a $50 million endowment with the earnings to be used for maintenance and upkeep. The endowment is contingent on raising $100 million in private funds. It also requires a $300,000 payment to the City of Dickinson to offset expenses the city had previously incurred when the site was going to be Dickinson.
Another very controversial bill this session was SB2315, the no trespass bill. The bill generated more than fifteen hearings and thousands of e-mails. Heavily amended from its original form, the bill was finally killed on Friday in the House on a close vote of 44-48. Meanwhile, a study resolution amendment to study the issue during the upcoming biennium was inserted in the budget for the Information Technology Department. That bill passed the House on Friday. On Thursday the Governor signed SB2020, the State Water Commission budget bill. It had become very controversial in the closing weeks because of funding for Fargo Flood control. In conference committee deliberations funding for Fargo was increased from $703 million to $750 million, but Governor Burgum and Fargo legislators insisted that a minimum of $870 million was needed to secure legislative intent for the project. The bill was sent to the Governor on Monday, and there was great speculation that he might veto it. In its final form the bill fully funds the appropriation request of WAWSA, which will be used for transmission expansion to Stanley, design for an expansion of the Williston water treatment plant, and additional buildouts and hookups to service. In an unusual move, the emergency clause which originally failed on final passage was inserted into SB2015, the budget bill for the Office of Management and Budget. This is relatively important as the money is now available to be spent immediately rather than waiting for the beginning of the next biennium on July 1. Also, this past week the Legislature approved amendments to create a Homeowners Rebuilder Program. Attached to HB1014, the budget bill for the Industrial Commission, the amendment appropriates $3.75 million to the Bank of ND to provide 1% loans to homeowners affected by river flooding in the spring or winter of 2019. This should be helpful to residents along the Yellowstone River.
SB2265, a bill to provide on-time funding for school districts, has been passed and signed by the Governor. The bill bases school foundation aid payments on enrollment on September 10 of the current year, eliminating a year lag in payments under the former law. This is particularly important to school districts experiencing rapid growth in student enrollment. The bill is a “half loaf” in that it requires 50% of the increased payments in the second year of the biennium, and then provides a 10% percent increase over the next five years until 100% of the increase is paid. When the bonding authorization in SB2268, the Corridors of Commerce highway construction program, was stripped from the bill, an amendment was added to HB1012, funding for the Department of Transportation, to authorize $50 million in loans for matching federal funds. Dedicated to highway 85, it is unknown if the loans will be utilized.
On balance, it was a good legislative session for western North Dakota. It has been our pleasure to represent the citizens of District 39. We have enjoyed your comments, questions, and e-mails, and encourage you to keep in contact with us. If you have an interest in any specific legislation, we invite you to visit the Legislative Council website at legis.nd.gov. as there were many changes made in the closing days of the session. firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.