Saying Republicans Ignored Needy People in Budget Fix Is Lazy and Inaccurate


“The Pioneer Family” stands in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on July 14, 2016, in Bismarck. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Over the weekend the Fargo Forum editorial board praised Republican budget fix passed during a special session last week. Taking exception to that editorial is state Senator Tyler Axness (D-Fargo) who argues in a rebuttal letter that Republicans ignored the needy by eschewing a Democratic proposal to spend reserve funds on bringing in matching federal dollars.

I think Senator Axness’ piece needs a fact-checking.

First, Axness argues that there wasn’t any “actual legislating” allowed during the legislative session. I suppose his argument is based on the fact that Democratic proposals for the budget fix failed, but that’s ridiculous. Democrats were allowed to propose their own budget fix legislation in the Delayed Bills Committee, and it failed there. They were allowed to offer amendments to the Republican legislation in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and those failed. They were allowed to offer amendments to the Republican bill during the debate on the Senate floor, and those failed.

The Senate ultimately passed the legislation unanimously.

When the legislation was passed over to the House the Democrats again had a chance to offer amendments in the House Appropriations Committee, but they were unsuccessful there as well. The House does not allow floor amendments, so when a majority in the House voted for the legislation (just eight voted against it) the matter was closed.

There was a legislative process, but Axness and his fellow liberals simply weren’t successful in it. Mostly because their political party can’t win enough elections for their voices to matter all that much in the legislature. That may be frustrating to them, but it’s also the will of the people.

Second, Axness argues that Democrats offedered a sound alternative to the Republican plan:

My colleague Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, introduced an amendment that would have taken $29 million from a ‘rainy day fund’ which would have received $56 million in federal matching funds. The dollars would have gone to children with autism,  behavioral health services, nursing homes, and rural hospitals. After the $29 million transfer, we would still have $300 million left in that one budget reserve alone. We recognized the need to cut spending and would have left 87% of budget cuts in place while maintaining hundreds of millions in reserves for next session. Or, had there been allowed actual legislating during the special session, lawmakers could have dug deeper into the budget and debated where to cut even further to shore up dollars. …

…I challenge readers to ask what good business person would turn down a 2-to-1 match on their investment? That is exactly what the legislature turned down. Federal money is not free money. It is our money. Why would the Republicans in North Dakota say to the federal government, “Go spend our money somewhere else”? By defeating the pragmatic solution brought forward by Democrats that is exactly what the feds will do.

Some might argue that the money from the federal government isn’t really our money. The federal government is so far in debt that all the taxes to paid in the liftimes of Americans alive today has already been spent. What the federal government is spending now is the money of people who are yet to be born. I think it’s wise when state leaders exercise reticence in adding to that debt pile.

But the woeful shape of the federal budget aside, there are practical reasons for North Dakota lawmakers to avoid drawing down reserve funds in the current biennium any more than necessary. Most of them having to do with the tough decisions they face come January when they’re tasked with budgeting for the next biennium.

After the heady days of titanic oil boom revenues our state budget has to fall back to reality. Democrats want to postpone that by draining reserve funds early. I think the wiser option is to get the hard work of cutting our budget back downt a sustainable level out of the way sooner rather than later.

Democrats can play the emotional game all the want, arguing that Republicans are throwing poor people and the elderly under a bridge or something (as Axness literally does), but math isn’t on their side.

If anything the special session spending cuts should have been deeper.