FARGO — Democratic legislative leaders on Tuesday, Sept. 21, urged fellow lawmakers to take swift action on using federal stimulus dollars to help North Dakota make infrastructure improvements and support child care initiatives.
At a Fargo news conference, state Sen. Tim Mathern, of Fargo, and state Rep. Alisa Mitskog, of Wahpeton, said a special session tentatively set for the week of Nov. 8 should be an opportunity for lawmakers to decide how best to spend more than $1 billion North Dakota has received from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Both Mathern and Mitskog serve on the Legislature's Appropriations Committees.
Mathern outlined spending priorities supported by the North Dakota Democratic-NPL party that include:
- Using $400 million for hard infrastructure projects including fiber optic lines, natural gas collection and distribution, water projects, and roads and bridges.
- Putting $100 million toward "soft infrastructure," such as incentives for hospitals to fund behavioral health units and Medicaid eligibility expansion.
- Using $7 million to provide education stipends to people who agree, upon graduation, to work in the state for at least five years.
- Devoting up to $400 million to support child care in the state and putting $100 million toward the setting up of a paid family leave program, so workers won't have to choose between staying in a job, or caring for themselves or loved ones.
Mathern stressed that every day the American Rescue Plan Act money goes unused the value of those dollars declines due to opportunity costs and inflation.
"The time to jump start North Dakota's economy is now," Mathern said.
Asked whether it was realistic for Democrats to suggest funding priorities given that Republicans dominate the Legislature and governor's office, Mathern said there were essentially three reasons the Democrats are making a point of what to do with federal stimulus dollars.
One aim, he said, is to simply spark public discussion about the issue.
But, he added: "We also believe that the citizens of North Dakota actually support Democratic-NPL ideas and it is a way to communicate with those people that this party does in fact represent many of their ideals."
Mathern then added a third reason.
"We are speaking, in part, for the country," he said. "We actually believe we need to take a more critical role in the entire country of addressing the economic conditions and the pandemic."
Mitskog said the issues facing North Dakota transcend party politics.
"I truly feel, as a voice of rural North Dakota, (that) investment in broadband, in natural gas to those communities that right now are unserved or underserved is critical to ensure they remain viable and have an opportunity to be competitive with the rest of the nation," Mitskog said.
She added that in order to address problems like workforce shortages investment is needed in areas like child care.
"We have to prioritize and make this a critical investment for North Dakotans and families to get North Dakota back to work," Mitskog said.