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Published April 19 2012

Forum editorial: Guidelines first steps for budget

The reaction to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget guidelines for the executive agencies under his control has been, shall we say, a tad extreme. Some of it is political claptrap, such as state Sen. Ryan Taylor’s, D-Towner, reaction that the governor’s guidelines “fall short of reality.” Taylor, the Democratic-NPL candidate for governor, surely knows better, but it’s a political season, and he’s obligated to take shots at his opponent when the opportunity arises.

Some of the concern, however, is legitimate wonder why the governor seems to be asking for cuts when the state is awash in oil revenues. Let’s back up the oil wagon a bit and consider what he said.

The operative word in the governor’s preliminary executive budget is “guidelines.” His directive for hold-even budgets not only is in keeping with the state’s conservative budgeting tradition but also is pretty much the same mandate previous governors imposed on executive agencies at the start of the budget cycle. History confirms that the conservative budget instinct is among the major factors that have kept North Dakota in the black while most states were slipping into the red.

The governor’s directive makes sense: Hold even if you can. Cut back if you can. If, however, demands on an agency’s services are up and expected to grow, prepare a budget that reflects those circumstances. But overriding principles should be to prevent expenditures from exceeding revenues, to provide tax relief when possible and to maintain reserves.

Of course, the state’s strong agriculture/energy economy should make those tasks easier. It also is very likely a few agencies will seek larger budgets based on larger workloads. The secretary of state’s office, for example, is seeing an unprecedented increase because of business activity associated with the oil boom. The Oil and Gas Division, for another example, likely will need more resources, as will the Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and Human Services, to name a few. Dalrymple understands demands for government services will be up. Those changes will be considered when he and his staff assemble a final budget proposal that will be presented to the 2013 Legislature.

But for now, the governor is cautioning that more dollars do not mean abandoning conservative money management. His guidelines directive is a reminder of how best to steward the taxpayers money.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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