Despite Booming Economy, North Dakota Human Services Budget Breaks Record


North Dakota has one of the healthiest economies in the nation – the unemployment rate is the lowest in the nation, and personal incomes are growing the fastest in the nation – but you couldn’t tell that from the growth in the state’s Human Services budget.

At the beginning of the legislative session I pointed out that Governor Jack Dalrymple had budgeted for a 25% increase in the human services budget. The governor’s budget provided for “a total general fund appropriation for the Department of Human Services of $1,176.9 million, $235.9 million, or 25.1 percent, more than the $941.0 million appropriated for the 2011-13 biennium,” according to an analysis from Legislative Management’s Budget Section.

According to the Bismarck Tribune, the legislature shaved just a little at that total, ending with a budget calling for $1.165 billion in state spending in the coming biennium. With federal dollars included, the total budget hits nearly $3 billion.


A big chunk of that is the Medicaid expansion requested by Governor Dalrymlpe and passed by the legislature to come into compliance with Obamacare. That expansion represents a 46% increase in enrollment in the state’s largest entitlement program, an increasing cost of which will be carried by the state as the feds slowly pull out their funding as they are scheduled to do.

And it’s not just Medicaid, either. Again, despite a strong economy, North Dakota has seen dramatic increases in programs like food stamps thanks to eligibility expansions.

But beyond ill-advised national health care policy and food stamps, why in the world are we seeing such a lare increase in social spending at a time when the state is doing so well?

Do we have any hope of ever keeping state budgets in line if this sort of social spending grows whether the state’s economy is healthy or not? Shouldn’t social spending go down when times are good and needs are less?

That would make sense. But not much about government social policy makes sense.