The Real Drama of the Legislature’s Special Session Starts Tomorrow in the House

For those of you who haven’t been following along, here’s what’s happened in North Dakota’s special legislative session so far:

  • Two bills, one Republican and one from Democrats, to delay the construction of the new governor’s residence failed in the Delayed Bills Committee
  • The Republican bill to fix the budget shortfall – one backed by Governor Jack Dalrymple and the Republican legislative leadership – sailed through the Delayed Bills Committee
  • A Democratic alternative to the Republican budget fix offered by Senator Tim Mathern failed in that committee
  • In the Senate Appropriations Committee Mathern tried to amendment elements of his bill into the Republican bill and failed

So today the Republican budget fix bill comes to the Senate floor where we’ll all get another round of grandstanding from Democrats as they try, again, to amend elements of Mathern’s bill into the Republican bill during the floor debate (floor amendments are allowed in the Senate but not the House).

What do the Democrats want? Remarkably, they want to resolve the budget shortfall (in part, anyway) by spending more money out of reserve funds. No, I’m not joking:

So the idea, I guess, is to further deplete the state’s reserve funds – even as we another tough budgeting session looms in the regular session due to start in January – in order to trigger federal funds the federal government really doesn’t have anyway.

There’s a reason why Democrats aren’t in charge of things in North Dakota.

Anyway all this sturm und drang from Democrats is for show. The real fight, I think, is going to happen in the House Appropriations Committee tomorrow. Because out of nowhere state Rep. Mark Dosch (R-Bismarck) proposed an amendment to the Republican budget fix bill that would significantly increase spending cuts. As Mikw Nowatzki reported last night:

If the Senate approves the bill, it goes to the House Appropriations Committee, which will have its own controversial amendment to consider. Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, dropped a bombshell when he proposed increasing the across-the-board cuts ordered Monday from 2.5 percent to 5.95 percent.

That would raise the total cuts since February to 10 percent – equivalent to the 90-percent budget requests Dalrymple has directed state agencies to prepare for the 2017-19 biennium.

“I don’t think that we should wait. I think now is the time,” Dosch said, noting the updated revenue forecast released last month that prompted Dalrymple to call the session was already more than $300 million below January’s forecast. “I see nothing in our current economy, in oil prices, in ag prices, that would indicate to me that this slide is over.”

Dosch makes a solid point. The special session was called to address shortfalls in the current biennium, but the regular session of the Legislature will have to start in January to put together a budget for the next biennium. With no indication that the state’s revenue outlook is going to improve to any significant degree, what Dosch is arguing for is ripping the band-aid off instead of peeling it off slowly.

I think he’s got a point.

The question will be if he has the juice to get his amendment through the House, let alone the Senate where even the Republican caucus is much less conservative on spending.

A conservative House member sympathetic to Dosch’s crusade tells me the amendment has “no chance.” Which seems about right, but you’ve got to give Dosch credit for trying.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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