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Published December 09 2010

ND governor's budget doesn’t impose new taxes, fees

BISMARCK – Property tax relief, more money for infrastructure needs in oil country and improvements to college campuses are among the funding priorities Gov. Jack Dalrymple outlined in his first budget address Wednesday.

Dalrymple presented his speech in the House chamber before state lawmakers, members of the public and statewide elected officials.

Dalrymple said the budget recommendation represents an increase of 5.6 percent in spending per year. He noted that more than half of the increase is due to reduced federal funding in human services that the state needs to replace.

Excluding the $174 million in discontinued federal funding, the increase in general fund spending is 2.7 percent per year, he said.

The 2011-13 executive budget doesn’t borrow, bond or impose new taxes or fees, Dalrymple said.

Here’s a breakdown by topic area:

Eastern infrastructure

“We need to end the annual anxiety caused by chronic flooding, especially in the Fargo-West Fargo area,” Dalrymple said.

He reaffirmed the state’s commitment of about $300 million over 10 years for a Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.

The budget sets aside $30 million from the Resources Trust Fund for a total of $75 million in initial funding, he said. This trust fund receives money from oil tax revenue and is used to construct water-related projects and to fund energy conservation programs.

For Devils Lake, Dalrymple proposes committing up to $120 million to construct a second outlet on the east end, expand the existing outlet on the west end and build a control structure on Tolna Coulee.

Not all of that money – which will also come from the Resources Trust Fund – would be allocated during the 2011-13 biennium, Dalrymple said.

As far as infrastructure needs elsewhere, Dalrymple said he’s “not completely ignoring everyone else” and “understands needs in other areas.”

Western infrastructure

Under Dalrymple’s proposal, $958 million would be allocated to benefit the state’s 17 oil- and gas-producing counties. Of that, $371 million from the permanent oil tax trust fund would be for state, county and township roads in oil country.

The state Department of Transportation would set the priorities for the $229 million for state roads, using the same procedures normally used for needs, Dalrymple said.

The $142 million for county and township roads would be distributed according to a comprehensive study recently finished and with input from the DOT, Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple also proposes $100 million for the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund. The fund now has an $8 million cap per biennium and is funded with money from the 5 percent gross production oil tax.

Dalrymple said $240 million in regular state and federal highway funds “that would happen anyhow” is budgeted for the Williston, Minot and Dickinson DOT districts.

This includes “super-two” construction on U.S. 85, he said.

“This region of North Dakota is doing its share to build North Dakota’s economy, and we need to do our share to help them with their challenges of growth,” Dalrymple said.

Property tax relief

Dalrymple proposes $350 million go toward property tax relief and $150 million for income tax relief. This would bring the total tax relief from 2009-13 to $900 million.

“It is important that the hard-working men and women of North Dakota see a substantial share of our economic gains reflected in their tax bills,” Dalrymple said.

K-12 education

Dalrymple, chairman of the state’s Commission on Education Improvement, supports $102.3 million in increased funding for K-12 education.

This includes $54.3 million to complete school funding adequacy. There is also $32 million to increase the per-student payment by $100 each year of the 2011-13 biennium.

Dalrymple also proposes $7.5 million be set aside for school districts interested in creating an alternative teacher compensation system. An additional $8.5 million is proposed for transportation, principal mentoring, early childhood education and other initiatives.

Higher education

Dalrymple proposes an increase of $82 million in ongoing funding and $46 million in one-time funding for the 11 colleges of the North Dakota University System.

This should allow tuition at two-year schools to be held even and four-year schools to limit tuition increases to no more than 2.5 percent per year, he said.

Dalrymple supports five major capital projects for the University System.

Dalrymple plans to ask the state Board of Higher Education to work with him to establish a new Commission on Higher Education Funding to develop recommendations to improve the equity, transparency and effectiveness of higher education funding.

Dalrymple also recommends higher education salary increases of 3 percent each year of the biennium.

Youth, human services

Dalrymple said he welcomes legislation for a tiered or graduated driver’s license program. He also spoke of the headlines about teen suicide rates.

“These highlight the need to make more resources available for critical mental health services for our citizens,” he said.

The budget recommends an increase of nearly $8 million across several agencies to address the mental health challenges in the state.

This includes $6.1 million for the Department of Human Services to fund psychiatric in-patient care, additional local resources to help stabilize patients suffering a mental health crisis and more resources to treat chemical dependency, he said.

He also recommends $1 million for suicide prevention efforts by the state Health Department and an additional $100,000 to help fight youth suicide on reservations.

The budget includes $900,000 for campuses and high schools to help address mental health problems among students.

Long-term care, public employees

Dalrymple proposes a 3 percent increase each year of the 2011-13 biennium for nursing homes and other health care providers, as well as for providers serving people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

As for public employees, he recommends a 3 percent salary increase each year of the biennium and fully funding the increase in health care premiums.

The numbers

The 2011-13 executive budget was created with input from the state Office of Management and Budget, cabinet agencies and the governor’s office.

“Together, I believe we have produced a budget for the people of North Dakota that is farsighted and pragmatic, a budget that will continue to lead our state forward,” Dalrymple said.

The latest projections show the state ending the biennium on June 30 with a $1 billion surplus: $80 million left in the general fund, $620 million in the permanent oil tax trust fund and $325 million in the budget stabilization fund.

The executive budget anticipates a $1.2 billion state surplus by June 30, 2013. Of this amount, $619 million is expected in the Legacy Fund. In the November election, North Dakota voters approved the creation of the fund, which will be supported with oil tax revenue.

State lawmakers will spend the coming months of the legislative session hashing out the budget before it is finalized.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.