This guest post was authored by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) and House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R-Fargo)
We have reached the halfway point of the 65th legislative session, bills that have passed the House move on to the Senate and vice-versa. Most bills are still works-in-progress, and plenty of time still remains to debate key issues and fine tune legislation. As for the budget for the next biennium, it will remain fluid until the release of the March revenue forecast. Armed with the latest revenue information, we are committed to passing a budget that funds our priorities and provides local property tax relief, ensures adequate reserves for the future and balances our budget without an increase in state taxes.
As always, our top priority is educating our kids. We need to invest in our state’s future and maintain the high quality of education that North Dakotans expect. Funding for K-12 education will be held at current levels into the next biennium, which will also help hold the line on local school property taxes. In addition, we are working to replenish the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund that was used in the last allotment, so that we can ensure adequate education funding in this biennium.
We also recognize our responsibility to care for our most vulnerable citizens. The “provider tax” proposal that would have shifted the burden of falling revenues onto private payers was rejected, and, instead we plan to restore long-term care funding lost to the current biennium’s budget cuts and make the long-term care budget for the next biennium whole. We are also considering a requirement that insurance plans in North Dakota cover autism programs.
Public safety is also a priority during this session. We sent a package of bills relating to the Dakota Access pipeline protests to the governor’s desk to show our commitment to helping law enforcement do their job. We applaud the restraint shown by our state’s law enforcement personnel in their handling of the situation, and we are committed to keeping people on both sides of the issue safe while ensuring the rule of law.
We are looking for ways to reinvent and right-size government. We are taking a close look at our criminal justice system and our approach to addiction. In many cases, a person needs rehabilitation, not incarceration. By improving access to behavioral health services, we will not only save lives but also reduce our prison costs and population by combating recidivism.
We are also taking steps to further increase transparency in the political process. Campaign finance reform bills that prohibit the personal use of campaign funds, prohibit foreign contributions and increase disclosure requirements are working their way through the legislature. We believe in giving the voters the information they need to make good decisions at the ballot box.
One of our most challenging tasks this session has been correcting the deficiencies in the medical marijuana measure that passed on the ballot in November. We fully respect the will of the people and we are working to give them what they voted for while implementing a system that gives qualified patients access to a safe product.
We are optimistic about the future of our state. Legislators have been looking for efficiencies and making necessary cuts in order to ensure that we do not burden our citizens with new taxes. We are committed to funding our priorities and building up adequate reserves for the future, in the end, we will do things the North Dakota way: living within our means and by balancing the budget.