By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday unveiled a proposed $18.4 billion budget that increases state spending by more than 3% and includes $3 billion in infrastructure funding, and increases workforce development funding and public employee salaries.
The second-term Republican governor’s budget is the biggest proposed by a governor in state history. He presented his plan during an 80-minute speech to a joint session of the House and Senate, saying it “leverages investments in infrastructure, community and economic development for the future and reduces taxes for workers while tackling our No. 1 barrier to economic growth, our workforce challenge.”
Burgum estimates the state has more than 35,000 vacant jobs, and its lack of oil workers has hamstrung production in the state, the third largest producer in the country behind Texas and New Mexico.
State spending has expanded dramatically in recent years as revenue from oil production has fattened North Dakota’s coffers. The state’s current $17.8 billion two-year budget — including federal aid — is its biggest ever and more than $2 billion larger than the previous one. The increase in the current budget largely reflects an additional $2 billion the state received in federal coronavirus aid.
The governor’s spending blueprint for the 2023-2025 budget cycle includes $1.4 billion from President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure deal, and another $100 million in coronavirus relief funds.
The governor is proposing general fund spending at $5.86 billion, up from $5 billion in the current budget. The general fund portion of the budget is spent on an assortment of programs, including education and human services. It is funded largely by state taxes on income, sales, energy, tobacco and gambling.
Burgum’s blueprint also includes raises for state employees — 6% in the first year of the biennium and 4% in the second year. Lawmakers typically give themselves an equal increase when state employee raises are approved.
The GOP-led Legislature often has referred to a governor’s spending suggestions as a working document, and have been quick to point out that it’s lawmakers who decide how much to spend on state government — not the executive branch.
Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature said they supported Burgum’s general themes, including boosting state worker salaries, and increases on education and infrastructure projects. But they cautioned that details have yet to emerge.
House Majority Leader Mike Lefor said he believed Burgum’s priorities appear to be “closely aligned” with the Legislature.
Burgum last summer proposed eliminating state income taxes for lower-earning North Dakotans while shrinking them for higher earners to a small flat tax, which he says would save taxpayers about $250 million annually.
He appealed to lawmakers Wednesday to back his proposal, urging them to “make it one of the first bills to cross my desk.”