Port: For North Dakota’s budget, the pandemic has never really ended


MINOT, N.D. — At the national level, the Biden administration, in conjunction with Congress, is in the process of winding down the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, President Joe Biden signed legislation officially ending the state of national emergency. This week comes news that he’s rolling back certain vaccine requirements.

But looking at North Dakota’s budget, you wouldn’t think the emergency had ended. Our state’s total appropriations skyrocketed during the pandemic as federal funds flowed into the state budget. But as those revenues ebb, our budget isn’t shrinking.

I’ll get to the numbers in a moment, but first, here are some basics on how our state budget works. It’s a three-legged stool consisting of general fund spending, special fund spending, and federal spending.

The general fund represents revenues from sources such as the income taxes and the state sales tax. Think of it like the state’s checking account. Money comes in, and money goes out.

Special fund spending represents money appropriated directly from the state’s reserve funds. Like the Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund, for example. During the oil boom era, which saw these funds burgeoning with oil tax revenues, our lawmakers became enamored with appropriating directly from the special funds as a way of hiding spending growth from general fund calculations. Not very transparent of them, but it’s de rigueur now.

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