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Gov. Dalrymple expected to announce decision on special session Wednesday

BISMARCK - Gov. Jack Dalrymple is expected to announce Wednesday, July 13, whether he will call the Legislature into special session to deal with a revenue shortfall brought on by lower-than-expected oil and sales tax collections stemming from lo...

1631216+North Dakota capitol.JPG
North Dakota State Capitol.
Forum file photo

BISMARCK – Gov. Jack Dalrymple is expected to announce Wednesday, July 13, whether he will call the Legislature into special session to deal with a revenue shortfall brought on by lower-than-expected oil and sales tax collections stemming from low crude and farm commodity prices.

After meeting Monday afternoon with leaders of the Legislature’s Republican majority, Dalrymple on Tuesday called a press conference for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday to provide an update on the shortfall and outline options to resolve it and balance the 2015-17 budget.

“The governor wants to make sure that everyone is kept up to speed on the budget and any action that’ll be taken to address the shortfall,” Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said Monday’s meeting covered all of the options available to the governor and Legislature for addressing the shortfall, “but a lot of them would take legislative action.”

Both Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson declined to speculate on the likelihood of a special session ahead of Dalrymple’s announcement, but both said they will probably be in Bismarck for the press conference.

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“There’s a plan and I think everybody feels good about it,” Wardner said.

Through June, general fund revenues have fallen about $100 million short of the last updated revenue forecast prepared in January, according to state Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp.

Sharp said she would have an updated forecast through the end of the 2015-17 biennium at Wednesday’s press conference, but won’t have the preliminary forecast for the 2017-19 biennium ready until another week or so.

The January forecast projected a $1.07 billion shortfall by the end of the current biennium next June, prompting Dalrymple to order about $245 million in across-the-board budget cuts for most state agencies, a process known as an allotment. To cover the remaining shortfall, he also authorized the transfer of all but $75 million from the $572.5 million Budget Stabilization Fund and used the built-in ending fund balance in the current budget.  

Carlson said some of the options discussed Monday included additional allotments or transfers, with possible sources of funds including the rainy-day Budget Stabilization Fund, the Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund and profits from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota or State Mill and Elevator in Grand Forks.

“We know where the money is because we put it there,” he said. “My only concern is that we don’t handcuff ourselves real bad for the next session.”

As with the last round of cuts, additional cuts to K-12 education would be offset by the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund, Carlson noted.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said Dalrymple called him Monday after meeting with GOP leaders, and Schneider believes things are headed toward a special session, though he said he was surprised to hear Tuesday that there was “a plan.”

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Schneider said he told the governor that the 17-member Legislative Management panel should convene to receive the revenue forecast and discuss options so lawmakers can be focused on what he hopes will be a short special session, adding, “Plans of that importance should be formulated in the light of day.”

Schneider said he believes the governor is in agreement that another round of across-the-board budget cuts isn’t the best route.

“We agree on the need to tighten our belt,” he said. “What we believe is very important is that policymakers put thought into which budgets get cut and by how much.”

The 2015 Legislature used up all 80 legislative days allowed under the state constitution every two years, so only the governor can call lawmakers back into session before December, when the Legislature has its organizational session for the 2017 regular session that begins in January.

Under the constitution, a special session must last at least three days to pass a bill. Legislative Council estimates the cost of a special session at about $80,000 per day.

The Legislature has been called into special session 14 times since statehood, most recently in November 2011.

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