Commerce Budget Increased 415%
BISMARCK – One bill making its way through the North Dakota State Legislature seeks to provide $50 million for tourism initiatives, which had some senators hesitant before the bill passed Thursday.
House Bill 1018 seeks to increase the Department of Commerce budget by 415%, from about $85 million to $438 million with mostly federal funds. The House originally increased the budget by 191% to $248 million, but the Senate added money to the House’s proposal. The bill includes $351 million of one-time funding for certain projects, which the House had at $157 million.
One change the Senate made was increasing the tourism destination and development initiative funding from the House’s $25 million to Gov. Doug Burgum’s original recommendation of $50 million. The Senate also added $210 million for weatherization and energy programs. North Dakota is eligible for at least $100 million for those programs, but the DOC anticipates not all states will use all of their funding in this area, so North Dakota may receive up to that $210 million.
“What we are told, these dollars, we’re not saving the federal government any money by sending them back,” said Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Dis. 29, Jamestown. “Whatever we send back, some other state would utilize. So, we’re making sure our state is able to take advantage of these programs.”
Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Dis. 31, Mott, said he was one of the few no votes to the Senate amendments in the Appropriations committee, and one of the reasons was because of the $50 million for tourism initiatives.
“Some of this is special interest stuff. Some of these are pet projects. Some of these are obviously projects that the governor wants,” said Schaible. “That kind of stuff should’ve come in separate bills or separate ideas. In my opinion, this is money looking for a good project rather than a good project looking for money.”
“I want to remind this body, tourism is the third largest industry we have,” said Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Dis. 40, Minot. “North Dakota, if you check around your neighboring states, is the lowest dollar state to fund tourism. We’re at a time and point in our history here in our state, we have to take every advantage we can to get more people into this state. Maybe some of these people will like us so well they’ll decide to move here.”
Sen. Kyle Davison, R-Dis. 41, Fargo, said he agrees with a lot of the goals in the bill.
“But there’s a lot of leap of faith here asking us to take these dollars when there’s not a lot of outcomes defined, and there aren’t a lot of action steps or an accountability process built into some of these,” said Davison.
Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Dis. 19, Edinburg, said the state has provided four million dollars for eight regional workforce councils and in the last two years they brought $52 million of projects into North Dakota.
“It’s not like our subcommittee came up with, hey, $50 million sounds like a good number,” said Wanzek. “The governor had it in his budget recommendations. I do feel that the program, as I read the destination and development and how projects will apply, I feel that there will be due diligence in determining which projects get the money or not.”
Wanzek said the bill with Senate amendments, compared to the House’s version, reduces the general fund by $9.8 million and reduces the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund by $95.5 million.
The Senate amendment to the bill passed 23 to 22. The bill amended bill passed 32 to 13.