Wayne Stenehjem: I'm The Optimist

If you’ve followed me on the campaign trail, you know that I’m the optimist. At every stop you’ll hear me saying, “There’s never been a better time to live in North Dakota. Our future is bright. We have a resilient, diverse economy and strong job market. We know that oil and ag will come back. It is just a matter of time.

But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have short-term challenges. We do. Low ag and energy prices have had a negative impact in some sectors of our economy and resulted in reduced revenues flowing into the general fund. I am confident we can deal effectively with these short-term challenges and keep North Dakota a great place to call home.

Prior to issuing his budget guidelines, I encouraged Governor Dalrymple to be conservative in his budget planning for the 2017-19 biennium and avoid across the board reductions. There is no doubt we need to reduce our spending and be strategic in how we balance the next state budget. The governor’s budget guidelines accomplish that goal. Not only are his recommendations conservative, but they allow flexibility to ensure we can adequately fund our most important programs.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]I have faced state budget challenges like these before, and while the proposed cuts are significant, the sky is not falling.[/mks_pullquote]

I have faced state budget challenges like these before, and while the proposed cuts are significant, the sky is not falling. The good news is that with our current ongoing revenues, we have plenty of money to fund priorities like education, public safety, and property tax relief. And, despite what some have said, we still have reserves to draw upon if we need to. We have $7.5 billion in long-term reserves and $1 billion available in short-term reserves.

Most of the budget reductions we must make can come by eliminating the one-time spending that was responsible for much of the dramatic increases of the past few years. Any additional cuts, while painful, can come out of recent spending increases and by making government more efficient and effective.

Because responsible government cannot be limited to simply cutting budgets, we must find and implement strategic solutions with vision. It makes sense to examine areas of duplication within state government and look deeply at our potential to merge agencies with similar tasks. We can identify innovative ways to stabilize human services funding. We can achieve sustainable, permanent property tax relief.

We must reduce costs through prison reform. Incarceration costs are skyrocketing. We will always need to lock up the bad guys, but we need to do a better job keeping good people suffering from addiction and mental health issues out of jail. It is a win-win outcome.

I know how state government works and, now more than ever, my experience will be key to getting things done. We have an obligation to balance our budget and do it in a way that best serves our citizens. That is precisely what I will do without raising taxes.

While we face challenges, we have seen some encouraging signals lately. Oil prices are trending upward and we’ve seen an upturn in job openings and a decrease in unemployment claims. I’m excited for the future of North Dakota and what we can do together to build on the strong foundation that supports our economy and our way of life.

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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