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Gubernatorial hopeful Nelson says ND ‘in crisis,’ state government leaving residents behind

BISMARCK - A Democratic state lawmaker officially launched his bid for governor here Wednesday, lobbing criticism at the man he's trying to replace and saying North Dakota's Republican-led state government is leaving some residents behind.

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State Rep. Marvin Nelson, D-Rolla, announces his run for governor on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, at North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party headquarters in Bismarck, N.D.
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BISMARCK – A Democratic state lawmaker officially launched his bid for governor here Wednesday, lobbing criticism at the man he’s trying to replace and saying North Dakota’s Republican-led state government is leaving some residents behind.

“I want a North Dakota that’s for all North Dakotans, and this government has not done that,” Rep. Marvin Nelson said at Democratic-NPL Party headquarters in Bismarck.

Nelson, a 57-year-old crop consultant from Rolla, criticized Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s handling of recent budget cuts to most state agencies to offset a $1 billion revenue shortfall.

Nelson said the agency cuts should have been deeper than 4.05 percent, which would have left more than $75 million in the Budget Stabilization Fund as lawmakers head into the 2017 session.

“Very little was left in the rainy day fund, and it continues to rain,” he said.

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Nelson also pointed to how the Dalrymple-chaired state land board recently had to suspend future grants from the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund and put a hold on $7.4 million for projects that hadn’t started yet after a revised forecast showed the fund will collect less than a quarter of the $139.3 million lawmakers authorized for 2015-17. A recent state audit also found aspects of the grant program were operating ineffectively.

“I wish that I could say that that fund was somehow different from the rest of the funds in the so-called best-run state in the nation. I don’t believe that it is,” Nelson said. “We are in a state of crisis, and it seems that our governor has left the room.”

He also said he favors the governor calling a special session to make more targeted cuts to agencies instead of the across-the-board cuts triggered by the revised forecast.

In an emailed statement, Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent called Nelson’s comment that North Dakota is in a state of crisis “ridiculous.”

“Either Mr. Nelson hasn’t bothered to study the details of our state economy, or he is just simply offering up political rhetoric. Our state continues to have the lowest unemployment in the nation and we have more than 13,000 jobs openings statewide. Our diversified economy is going to hold up well despite the downturn in commodity prices,” he said.

Zent said Dalrymple carried out the budget cuts as spelled out in state law, and a special session is unnecessary as the Legislature will convene in eight months.

“The governor is always willing to discuss the details of our state finances, and he is fully engaged in moving forward on the state’s priorities,” Zent said.

Nelson said he believes lawmakers will have no choice but to tap the state’s $3.4 billion Legacy Fund to fill funding gaps in the next biennium’s budget, saying the only other choice is to raise taxes. The trust fund created by voters in 2010 is supported by oil and gas tax revenue, and spending its principal requires two-thirds approval from both chambers.

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“What’s going to be worse for today’s economy in North Dakota than ag and oil both being down?” Nelson said. “I really think that’s the very type of thing people had in mind when they made that option.”

His announcement comes about two weeks before the Dem-NPL party’s state convention March 31 to April 2 in Bismarck. Republicans will endorse their candidate for governor the same weekend in Fargo, choosing between Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, state Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck and Fargo businessman Doug Burgum.

The North Dakota Libertarian Party has an endorsed candidate for governor and will announce him after the GOP convention, party chairman Tony Mangnall said.

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