Audio: Burgum Opposes Limits on Bonuses, Says Votes for Same Sex Marriage Bill Showed “Courage”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and his wife, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, share a laugh on stage during his inaugural celebration Wednesday, Jan. 4 2016 at the Bismarck Event Center. Photo by John Hageman

I had Governor Doug Burgum on my radio show today, and we hit on a number of topics including reports that some state lawmakers were upset that he sometimes wears jeans.

I asked Burgum if he had dressed up for our interview. He said he was going to wear a clown outfit but couldn’t find one, a reference to a quip in my post about the matter that our governor could come to work “dressed as Bozo the Clown as long as he’s promoting sound public policy.”

Say what you want about Burgum. He’s got a sense of humor.

Anyway, I asked the Governor about legislation I wrote about last week (which got unanimous approval in a House committee today) which would limit bonuses in his office to no more than $5000.

Burgum’s not a fan.

“I think it’s a natural reaction,” he said of HB1153, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Delzer, a Republican from Underwood. Burgum said it’s the legislature saying “let’s figure out a way to put some restraint” in spending.

…Burgum said the legislation amounts to “micro managing” or “little handcuffs” and could be an obstacle to his goal of reinventing state government.

But Burgum said the legislation amounts to “micro managing” or “little handcuffs” and could be an obstacle to his goal of reinventing state government.

“A lot of savings opportunities exist…when we can have a cross-cutting initiative,” he said, adding that leaving budgets for state departments with “no fungibility…creates another restraint on optimizing.”

Essentially Burgum is arguing that these sort of limits give those public officials heading up state departments less flexibility with their finances, and that this can be an impediment to efficient government. I think he’s right.

The Legislature sets the overall budget for each department of the state government anyway. If a given agency can get creative with their budgets, why shouldn’t they?

In a recent newspaper column I praised Burgum’s comments on ending the state’s buy downs of local property taxes in his state of the state address, but wondered how we could accomplish that without triggering massive property tax hikes at the local level.

I asked Burgum about that today. “It is a sticky wicket,” he said. “It is a challenge.”

He praised the Legislature for addressing property taxes by taking over as much as 80 percent of local school spending, something Burgum says has saved billions in local property taxes (though it also creates billions in on-going state spending obligations, I’d point out). But he said the direct buy downs of property taxes are creating a situation where local governments are “almost incentivized to grow spending.”

“We’re taking taxes out of one pocket and putting it in another.”

It’s still not clear how we can stop that shifting, though, without unpopular spending cuts at the local level and/or big property tax hikes.

Finally, I asked Burgum about the recent vote in the state Senate against a bill making references to marriage in state code gender neutral. Burgum, an outspoken proponent of same sex marriage, said he understood that some lawmakers were taking orders from their constituents.

“That’s what they should do,” he said.

Still, he praised the lawmakers who voted for the legislation for having “the courage to stand up and say ‘this is the law of the land’.”

Here’s our full interview:

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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