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Republicans promote Legislature's results

BISMARCK (AP) -- North Dakota Republican lawmakers fanned out Tuesday to promote the work of the 2011 Legislature, which approved income tax cuts and higher spending on water projects and roads as part of its new two-year budget of $9.9 billion.

Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan, the chairwoman of the North Dakota House's Education Committee, said several of the Legislature's initiatives will benefit young people, including increased state spending on local schools, anti-bullying legislation and new safeguards for student athletes who suffer concussions during competition.

"Our schools now can provide a more safe environment, and we can ensure that our young people are able to achieve in the classroom," Kelsch said during a news conference in the state Capitol.

Republican legislators, who hold two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, held similar briefings in seven other cities Tuesday, five days after the Legislature adjourned.

Legislative Democrats have been critical of Republican support of a 20 percent reduction in corporate tax rates, which will save companies an estimated $20 million over two years. They argued that the money could have been used to strengthen social programs, including aid for prenatal care and training for child-care workers, and to broaden eligibility for a health-insurance program for children of low-income families.

"I think we could have spent even $5 million, which in this session was a relatively small amount, and done major good work with (child health insurance) expansion, with school nursing," said Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said the corporate tax cut squandered "a wonderful resource, and (Republicans) gave so much of the tax resource away to the people who didn't need it, or even want it."

The Legislature also approved an 18 percent reduction in individual income tax rates, which will save taxpayers an estimated $120 million over two years, as well as almost $342 million in aid to local schools that can be used to cut their property tax rates.

They endorsed $235 million in spending for state water and flood-control projects, including a water pipeline supply system for northwestern North Dakota, a new outlet to siphon floodwaters from Devils Lake into the nearby Sheyenne River, and the expansion of an existing lake outlet.

Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, said the children's health insurance program that Democrats wanted to expand has had difficulties coaxing parents to enroll children who are already eligible.

The state's income eligibility standards also allow the subtraction of various expenses, including child-care costs and payroll taxes, which make income thresholds more generous than they appear, Porter said. The present income threshold for a family of four is $35,760 annually, which is 160 percent of the federal poverty level.

"You get to take away expenses for raising your family that allows you to get on the program," Porter said. "Our eligibility is at a level that is very comparable to other states."