There are a lot of reasons to like North Dakota’s fiscal picture, but one of the best reasons to like the surpluses the state is swimming in is the latitude they give state policy makers in looking at the role of federal funds in the state. Other states, with tighter budgets, don’t always have that luxury.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the legislature may not be availing itself fully of that opportunity. During the session two resolutions were passed calling for studies into “the statutory and regulatory requirements placed on North Dakota state government agencies by United States government agencies as a condition of the receipt of federal funding” (HCR3038) and “state alternatives to the statutory and regulatory requirements placed on North Dakota schools and school districts by the United States Department of Education” (SCR4012).
Put simply, these studies would have looked at ways the state could be more independent of the federal government, with one focusing specifically on the area of education.
Unfortunately, according to a tentative list of studies prioritized by Legislative Management for the 2013-2014 interim (see below), neither of these studies made the cut. To put this decision in context, consider that in 2010 more than 41% of the state’s budget was federal dollars.
That’s unfortunate, and a big reason why conservative members of the legislature were griping about Senate Republicans joining with Democrats to elect Senator Ray Holmberg to chair Legislative Management during the interim. With someone like Holmberg in charge, we’re simply not going to see conservative priorities pushed in the interim despite Holmberg being, ostensibly, a Republican.
North Dakota is in a once-in-a-lifetime position to make some bold choices in moving the state away from the constant headache that is federal funds and all the federal micromanagement that come along with them. But many of our legislative leaders seem far too preoccupied with running up state spending and watering down tax relief.
On a related note, there are several good studies which appear to have gotten the green light, including several looking into property tax reform and one study looking into the use of open textbooks to cut higher educations costs (which can’t be a favorite with the university system given how they bilk students on textbooks).