Dustin Gawrylow: Special Session Finishes Kicking the Can Down the Road

This week’s special session was intended to be dull and boring with few surprises allowed to happen.

Sure, there was the typical Democratic complaints that the cuts went too far. Democrats actually had a point about Republicans foolishly refusing to find a way to shift $29 million back to human services in order to receive a 2:1 Federal Funding Match of $56 million.

Republicans have traditionally spent every dollar they can to gain Federal Matching Funds for just about every government program under the sun, but they simply could not let Democrats claim a victory on this one. The fact is, $29 million could have easily been cut from other areas of the budget to make room for the amendment.

While that was one area where some compromise could have been made, the fact is this special session was a missed opportunity to do more than just get the state by till the 2017 Legislative Session.

Yesterday, State Representative Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) posted the following the statement about this special session:

Many viewed this session as an opportunity to really go in and fix things. It wasn’t. This session had only one objective, like it or not. The objective was to just get us to squeak by until the next regular session in January.

Next session we will have a tremendous job to do, and believe me, I look forward to it.

So did we really fix anything in this special session? No. We kicked the can to get us through until January. That was the objective. The bill met those minimal aspects of the objective. You may disagree with the objective, and I may agree with you on that.

One Republican did have the courage to go on the record that more cuts should have been made was Bismarck Representative Mark Dosch who offered amendments to increase the 2.5% cuts the governor suggest to 5.95% cuts (making the total allotment 10% for the year):

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, said he was “very disappointed” that fellow members of the House Appropriations Committee refused to consider his amendment, letting his motion die for lack of a second.

“There’s been virtually no opportunity to comment or to give input on this bill,” he told the committee. “It was formatted by the leadership of the House and Senate and the governor, and I believe we are doing a great injustice to the people of North Dakota, but it is what it is.”

[…]

Dosch, who isn’t seeking re-election in November after moving out of his legislative district, offered an amendment that would have increased the 2.5 percent reduction to 5.95 percent.

When added to 4.05 percent cuts made in February to help offset a $1.07 billion shortfall at that time, it would reduce agency budgets by a total of 10 percent, matching the 90 percent budget requests that Dalrymple has asked agencies to submit for the 2017-19 biennium.

Dosch said businesses across the state are experiencing a 20 percent to 50 percent drop in revenue and are being asked to tighten their belts.

“And the fact that we cannot even consider a 10 percent reduction in overall spending by our government agencies to address a $1.3 billion shortfall, I feel, is a disgrace and a great, great disservice to the people,” he said, warning that the state’s economic downturn will continue and “the bleeding is not over.”

It’s a sad commentary that not a single member of the committee wanted to second Dosch’s motion. Even to just take a vote.

When it comes to the 2017 Regular Legislative Session, because there will not be a Budget Stabilization Fund to act as a safety net, there will need to be somewhere around a billion of cuts from where this budget ends just to make the books balance. A handful of Republicans know this, but when the time comes, they will probably continue to say no one saw this coming.

Everyone saw it coming – no one wants to admit it or take the blame.

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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