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Dalrymple urges belt-tightening as special session begins

BISMARCK - Majority Republicans sent a solution to North Dakota's $310 million budget shortfall to the House for final approval Wednesday after thwarting Democrats' attempts to undo millions in budget cuts and brushing off a member of their own p...

BISMARCK – Majority Republicans sent a solution to North Dakota’s $310 million budget shortfall to the House for final approval Wednesday after thwarting Democrats’ attempts to undo millions in budget cuts and brushing off a member of their own party who warned the cuts to state agencies don’t go deep enough.

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.”

The committee voted 16-4 to recommend passage of the bill, which was crafted by Gov. Jack Dalrymple and GOP legislative leaders.

The bill had emerged unchanged from the Senate Wednesday morning and now goes to the full House for consideration Thursday, on what’s expected to be the final day of a three-day special session called by Dalrymple last month to balance the budget as required by the state constitution.

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The bill remedies the shortfall with a 2.5 percent, $152 million across-the-board cut to general fund agencies ordered by Dalrymple on Monday, and by spending the remaining $75 million from the rainy-day Budget Stabilization Fund and up to $100 million in profits from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

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.”

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said the bill drafters didn’t take it lightly and discussed a lot of options, including a 10 percent cut that they decided was more than some agencies could handle.

“We know that our hands are full when we come back (for) the next session,” he said, referring to the regular session that begins in January.

Dosch voted with the committee’s three Democrats against the bill.

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Members also voted 17-3 along party lines to reject an amendment offered by Rep. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, that aimed to undo nearly $24 million in cuts made in February to the Department of Human Services – a scaled-down version of an amendment that failed in the Senate earlier in the day.

The bill headed to the full House includes $33.3 million for the Department of Human Services to offset the 2.5 percent cut, and $3.2 million for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce its cut to 1 percent.

The Office of Management and Budget is expected to present the first preliminary revenue forecast for the 2017-19 biennium after the Legislature adjourns Thursday.

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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