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Local legislators agree with Burgum's budget calls

All six of the Dickinson area state legislators thought Gov. Doug Burgum's state of the state address on Tuesday promised positive changes, particularly in handling the state's budget and his calls for addiction treatment reform.

Armstrong
Kelly Armstrong

All six of the Dickinson area state legislators thought Gov. Doug Burgum's state of the state address on Tuesday promised positive changes, particularly in handling the state's budget and his calls for addiction treatment reform.

State Rep. Mike Schatz, R-District 36, said that he thought the number one theme of the governor's speech was encouraging agencies and lawmakers to try and work more efficiently.

"I think we can, but it's going to take some real changes in attitude about how you deliver government service," Schatz said. "... I have a feeling that there's going to be some further cuts that he's going to want. The beauty of North Dakota is that we have so many of these pots that we have put money away for rainy days, and now is the time when those funds get tested a little bit as to how much is going to be taken out of them."

The chairman of the state's Republican Party, Sen. Kelly Armstrong, R-District 36, said he thought Burgum's speech recognized some of the budget challenges the legislature will tackle this biennium as well as offered some useful ideas for the future - things that will benefit all North Dakotans.

"I like how they're going to look at things and try and change things and make things more efficient and collect better data, get better forecasts," Armstrong said. "That's good for the Dickinson people, that's good for everybody in the state."

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The Legislature is on board with this line of thinking for the most part "both because they're conservative and because our revenue stream is significantly less than it has been in the past," he said.

Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple had proposed a budget of about $1.2 billion dollars less than the budget the Legislature had appropriated for the previous biennium. Burgum called for further cuts.

Senate Majority leader Rich Wardner, R-District 37, said he had expected there to be more details in Burgum's speech, but noted that it does take time to develop the specifics in terms of budgeting. On Thursday both chambers' appropriations committees will work on determining the state's revenue projections which will begin the Legislature's budgeting process. The Legislature will ultimately decide the state's budget for the next biennium, but Wardner agreed that the lawmakers agree with the same degree of cuts that Burgum discussed.

"Number one, we all need to remember this when we're down here, and I'm talking about legislators, we work for the people of North Dakota," Wardner said. "We've got to do the best job for them and working with the governor and working with the House, that's what we're going to do. And we're going to try to get a good job done."

House Majority Caucus Leader Mike Lefor, R-District 37, noted that Burgum was challenging all three branches of government to find innovative ways to "become more efficient and lower costs methods for returning government services to the people."

"The solution isn't always more money," Lefor said. "The solution is, 'Let's have more creative and better ideas.'"

Burgum also discussed the need to reform how North Dakota handles addiction.

Rep. Vicky Steiner, R-District 37, said this was an area the legislative team was already working on, especially noting the work Wardner had put into addressing the issue. Behavioral health is a topic she said the Legislature needs to address this session, something Rep. Luke Simons, R-District 36, who was elected in November, also noted.

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"There's the cost through the judicial system, there's a cost in incarceration, and the taxpayer is going to foot that bill, so if we can head that off earlier in the process, perhaps we can save some money and help people at the same time," she said, effectively agreeing with Burgum. "We obviously want to save lives. We don't want to see the loss of life continue at the rate it's going with overdoses."

Though Burgum's speech mainly offered general ideas rather than the details behind them, the Dickinson area representatives said his address seemed positive and seemed to bode well for all of North Dakota.

"I think he will do all right," Lefor said. "I think he intends to work, and he is results-driven, so I think you'll see some good results come out of his leadership for the state."

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