Senate Committee Approves Amendment Setting Governor Doug Burgum’s Salary to $1

Governor Doug Burgum Rick Abbott / The Forum

Back during his campaign last year Governor Doug Burgum promised to forgo his salary. Since taking office, he’s spent a lot of time fight lawmakers to make that happen.

Today a Senate committee approved an amendment to HB1001, the budget bill for the governor’s office, which will set the governor’s salary to $1 per year (it’s currently $132,964 per year).

The amendment isn’t online yet. UPDATE: See the amendment below.

If lawmakers keep the governor’s salary at $1 throughout Burgum’s time in office, whoever comes into office next may have to spend the first several months of their administration without pay.

House lawmakers I’m talking to aren’t liking the change. “So now when Doug isn’t governor one day then it will be a fight to pay the next one,” one of them told me.

That’s pretty much the crux of my argument against this change. It’s nice, but ultimately kind of pointless in terms of the overall budget, that Burgum wants to forgo his salary. And he certainly has the means to do it. He’s has been tremendously successful in his professional life and is today one of the richest residents of our state.

But not every person North Dakota voters might like to put in the governor’s office is rich. Some of them might actually need the salary. I’m pretty sure Burgum’s opponent in the general election last year, Democrat Marvin Nelson, is not in a financial situation to work full-time as governor without any pay.

So what happens when Burgum is out of office? Will voters expect that the next governor also forgo his/her salary?

Keep in mind, too, the timing of elections and legislative sessions. The new legislature meets in January after election day. If lawmakers keep the governor’s salary at $1 throughout Burgum’s time in office, whoever comes into office next may have to spend the first several months of their administration without pay.

Lawmakers could raise the salary before we get another governor, but that would mean they’d have to do it in their 2019 session ahead of the 2020 election when Burgum will be on the ballot again in case he should be defeated.

Here’s another scenario: What if something were to happen to Burgum? What if he were to die, or become incapacitated? That’s not something any of us likes to think about, but this change to salary would mean that the new governor would have no salary unless the Legislature were to hold a special session to fix it.

What a mess.

By the way, there has been no talk of Lt. Governor Brent Sanford declining his salary. Probably because the guy isn’t independently wealthy and needs it. Which is just fine.

This is a really bad idea, all aimed at holding up a bit of campaign trail ephemera.

UPDATE: I got a copy of the amendment, which you can read in full below, and it looks like they’ve crafted it so that it only applies to Governor Burgum. Here’s the text:

To cut through some of the legalese, the amendment sets a salary for the governor of $1 retroactive back to December 15 which is the day Burgum took office. It then sets an expiration for that salary for whenever someone other than the person who held office on December 15 (Burgum) holds the office.

Which addresses all of my concerns stated above about what happens for the salary with the next governor, but doesn’t make this whole issue any less dumb.

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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