Today Governor Jack Dalrymple issued his budgeting guidelines for the 2015-2017 biennium, and he’s calling for “hold even” budgets from state agencies.
I got a good laugh out of it.
“Dalrymple directed agency leaders to develop a hold-even baseline budget with an option for additional resources that are essential to the needs of a growing state.,” read a press release sent out by Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent.
“I am committed to holding the line on on-going spending, while recognizing that we must also meet the many needs driven by a growing population and the nation’s strongest state economy,” Dalrymple is quoted as saying in the release. “We owe it to the people of our state to develop a balanced budget that funds our priorities, allows us to meet the dynamic needs that come with growth, and provides for prudent investments in our future. At the same time, we should always look for more opportunities to lower taxes whenever possible.”
Here’s the thing: Dalrymple was pretty much saying the same thing back in 2012. “North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple is asking state agencies to plan for no spending growth over the next two years,” reported the Grand Forks Herald at the time. “He says North Dakota departments should plan to keep their existing budgets even for the next two years.”
So, did the state agencies really plan for zero growth in 2012? Uh, not really. Dalrymple’s sent an executive budget to the state legislature that called for an 18.8 percent increase in spending for the current biennium, and then the legislature piled over $2 billion more in spending on top of that to bring the state to a 62 percent increase in general fund appropriations:
The bulk of the spending increase in the state budget, by the way, was the over $800 million in property tax relief. Which calls into question whether or not that property tax relief was really, you know, relief given the burden it puts on the state budget.
But I digress.
This budget charade isn’t exactly a new development. In May of 2010, at the beginning of the biennium budgeting process, then-governor John Hoeven instructed North Dakota’s agencies to hold their budgets to zero growth, and recommend 3% spending reductions. “Although North Dakota has continued to grow and managed to avoid the brunt of the economic downturn, the national recession nevertheless has put pressure on some of our national and global business,” Hoeven said. “We can’t be certain to what extent the national economy will recover by the next biennium.”
In December of 2010, after Hoeven’s election to the US Senate, former Lt. Governor Jack Dalrymple (who had stepped up to be governor by that point) submitted a budget to the state legislature which ignored these recommendations. Dalrymple’s budget actually called for a 4.4% increase in agency spending.
So, yeah, we’ve seen this song and dance before.
Which isn’t to say that the state hasn’t needed to grow spending. You can’t see the sort of population and economic growth North Dakota has seen over the last several years without growing spending. Much of the growth was prudent.
But I wish the Dalrymple administration would drop this fiscal austerity charade. Nobody is buying it.