ND Senate begins session; disaster recovery key topicBISMARCK— The most significant task before legislators right now is developing a disaster recovery package for communities facing incredible hardships after flooding, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said today.
By: By Teri Finneman, The Dickinson Press
BISMARCK— The most significant task before legislators right now is developing a disaster recovery package for communities facing incredible hardships after flooding, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said today.
Dalrymple spoke to North Dakota lawmakers in a joint session today, the first day of the special session. Lawmakers spent the morning addressing formalities and will begin hearings on the issues this afternoon.
The Senate began its floor session by observing a moment of silence in honor of former Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, who was killed in a car accident this summer.
All of the legislators gathered in the House mid-morning to hear Dalrymple give an update on the State of the State.
North Dakota continues to see significant growth in all of its industries, including technology, tourism, agriculture and manufacturing, Dalrymple said.
“No single industry tells the whole story of the great progress we are making,” he said.
A recent national study found North Dakota is the only state better off today than it was two years ago, he said. The state has about 17,000 job openings across the state and has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.7 percent, Dalrymple said.
Just three months into the current biennium, sales tax collections have exceeded the April forecast by $59 million, and all general fund revenues are about $92 million higher than projected, he said.
When legislators return for the regular session in 2013, the state will have the resources needed to continue making investments in statewide infrastructure improvements and other priorities while holding the line on ongoing expenses, Dalrymple said.
The state’s strong financial position will allow for consideration of additional tax relief in the future, he said.
Dalrymple also addressed the state’s challenges. When floodwaters rose to historic heights in Minot and other areas of the state, North Dakotans banded together to help one another, he said.
“I am confident that all of you will embrace that same spirit of unity and shared purpose during this special session to address our state’s critical needs for flood disaster recovery,” Dalrymple said.
Much-needed assistance cannot be postponed, he said. Dalrymple urged legislators to make funds available to flood victims who were forced from their homes and now want to rebuild.
He also wants to see an infrastructure grant fund to assist political subdivisions struggling to cover the costs of flood damage.
“These impacts are real and numerous, but the costs are still not fully known,” Dalrymple said.
He asked lawmakers to approve a mechanism to evaluate requests for aid from political subdivisions and to distribute grant funds based on need.
In Minot and other cities, substantial floodway projects need to be designed and built to protect residents from additional flooding, Dalrymple said.
“Property owners who have lost much to flooding deserve peace of mind, knowing that their efforts to rebuild will not be lost to future floods,” he said.
These floodway projects fall under the State Water Commission and deserve a resolution of support from the Legislature, he said.
In addition to floodway projects, North Dakota also needs water outlets, levees and other water projects, he said. He asked legislators to show their commitment by increasing the spending authority of the State Water Commission.
Dalrymple also wants legislators to address the financial hardships that flooding has created for townships.
“After several consecutive years of having to repair flooded roads, some townships are carrying a debt load that would take decades to retire,” Dalrymple said. “Obviously, this situation is not sustainable.”
The state needs to make sure townships can continue to rebuild roadways, he said.
Dalrymple also addressed the need for low-income housing in the state and urged legislators to provide a substantial increase to the funding for the incentive state tax credit.
This will enhance and accelerate the development of new low-income housing in communities impacted by disaster and rapid oil development, Dalrymple said.
Dalrymple has also asked the Bank of North Dakota to enhance its existing loan programs for affordable housing.
The special session also gives the state an opportunity to increase funds available to the Oil Impact Fund, Dalrymple said.
“The need for grants in oil-impacted communities has proven to be even greater than anticipated in April, and I urge you to provide additional funding without delay,” he said.
Dalrymple said he has also instructed the Highway Patrol to send nine more troopers to the western part of the state and urged legislators to authorize four additional troops.
As far as the Fighting Sioux nickname, Dalrymple told lawmakers to support a bill returning the decision-making authority regarding the nickname to the State Board of Higher Education.
“I believe it was worth the effort to do everything we could to keep the university’s proud nickname,” Dalrymple said. “But now, with the University of North Dakota facing harm to its student athletes and all students, it is time to move forward.”
Hearings on the issues begin at 1:30 and go throughout the afternoon. Legislators will discuss redistricting, health care reform, the Fighting Sioux nickname and disaster relief.
Lawmakers will spend the week doing committee work, proposing amendments and debating on the floor. Leaders hope to wrap up the session on Friday.