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North Dakota Democrats launch legislative priorities

Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, front, talks about specific issues on the upcoming legislative agenda for the state Democratic-NPL Party during a press conference at the state Capitol in Bismarck on Tuesday. Also commenting were, from left, Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford; Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo; Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo; and Sen. Kathy Hogen, D-Fargo. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — In advance of Republican Gov. Doug Burgum's budget address Wednesday, North Dakota Democratic-NPL lawmakers outlined their 2019 legislative agenda, including proposals to raise state employees' pay and increase funding to education.

Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, said Tuesday, Dec. 4, the Democrats' priorities extend to bettering public services — including those for long-term care providers and individuals with disabilities — increasing education funding and tackling workforce development amid a tight job market.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said the proposal for state employees' increased pay would give them $300 more per month in the first year of the 2019-21 biennium, then include a 3 percent raise the next year.

"We feel that this will help the state recruit and retain top talent so that we can continue to deliver high-quality services to the people of North Dakota," Mathern told reporters at the state Capitol in Bismarck.

State employees did not receive a raise from the 2017 session.

Burgum's executive budget recommendation, to be unveiled Wednesday, includes a recommended raise for all state employees.

Three Bismarck Republican lawmakers have proposed a similar increase as the Democrats, with $300 per month in the first year, but with about a 1 percent increase in the second year.

Mathern said the Democrats' proposal helps state employees "see light at the end of the tunnel."

"We want to make sure that the folks on the lower end, the janitors, the people who run the plows, the new teachers, all of those folks get the increase in the first year that's the same as anybody on top," Mathern said.

Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, addressed the proposal to increase K-12 funding by 3 percent in each year of the next biennium and to support the State Board of Higher Education's recommended "needs-based budget" as an investment in the state's children and students.

"The fact is, in a state abundant with resources, North Dakota kids are still our greatest resource and our greatest responsibility," Oban said.

State lawmakers are in Bismarck this week for their three-day organizational session in advance of the 2019 session, which begins Jan. 3.