This guest post was submitted by state Rep. Jake Blum (R-Grand Forks).
Yesterday’s floor debate on House Bill 1264, regarding a speed limit increase on both interstate and multi-lane highways spurred a vigorous exchange from both proponents, and opponents of the bill. However, this debate soon evolved into a larger showcase of all that is wrong with the current determination of agency-driven fiscal notes on legislation in the State of North Dakota.
Unfortunately, the Department of Transportation overstepped its bounds in its efforts to kill House Bill 1264, issuing a roundly-condemned and laughable fiscal note which determined that the raising of our speed limit to 80 miles per hour would apparently cost the state nearly $5 million. Representatives Rick Becker and Ben Koppelman successfully exposed the fiscal note for what it was, bringing to light an issue that has caused great consternation among legislators for years, dating back far longer than my time in the people’s house.
“Death by fiscal note” is an adage we all know well, as any bill’s fiscal impact goes a long way to determine its viability and potential in passing on the floor. When state agencies intentionally manipulate and inappropriately utilize this feature in order to influence the policy making branch, we arrive at an unfortunate and unsustainable impasse. That is precisely what occurred on House Bill 1264.
The Department of Transportation apparently determined the proposed speed-limit increase was contrary to the stated goals of the “vision zero” initiative, despite my bill having zero mention nor bearing on the program. Coupled with an incalculable “social cost,” a fantastical assessment that every on and off ramp on the interstate would need to be re-engineered, as well as the apparent cost of every speed limit posting sign costing over $600 (South Dakota’s & Montana’s cost hovers around $100 on average), one must question the validity of DOT’s calculation.
Unfortunately, this is merely a symptom of a greater illness. State agencies regularly attempt to influence policy through fiscal notes, overstepping their bounds and doing the people of North Dakota a true disservice. We in the legislature admire the general professionalism and devotion to the state that the vast majority of agency employees and heads exhibit in their day-to-day work, and I in no way intend to diminish that. However, this longstanding and improper cudgel when used to influence policy, must come to a definitive end.
Though House Bill 1264 failed, perhaps the debate may lead to lasting change and a chance for reform, as our citizens become aware of the efforts of unelected bureaucrats to influence their policy making branch, undercutting their will. We can only hope so.