MINOT, N.D. — For years now, I've heard North Dakota lawmakers bellyache about executive overreach.
I've heard them moan about the excesses of the federal government.
Yet, now, as North Dakota faces what Gov. Doug Burgum is wont to call a "flock of black swans" in the form of a global pandemic and a coinciding downturn in the oil markets, many of those same lawmakers are unwilling to engage and do their jobs.
The North Dakota Democratic Party has called for a special session of the Legislature, and they're right.
I've been talking about this since March. North Dakota is facing severe budget problems. The coronavirus has created a myriad of public policy questions. While Burgum has been addressing many of them with his executive and emergency powers, that's not how the law is made.
Lawmakers make law, not executives.
The Democrats are hanging their case for a special session on the question of spending some $1.25 billion in federal money that was appropriated to North Dakota as a part of the CARES Act. That's a bit weak -- federal money comes with federal earmarks, meaning the latitude state policymakers have to spend it is limited anyway -- but they're not wrong.
Their argument for a special session would be more persuasive if they zoomed out a bit. Our state is in an almost unprecedented situation. We need proactive leadership on everything from budget matters to public health policy.
Sadly, our legislative leaders are content to be reactive.
"Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said Wednesday he is not in favor of calling a special session because the Legislature wouldn't have a clear forecast of what revenues will look like going forward," Jeremy Turley reported earlier today.
That's the same excuse Pollert has been using for months now, and it's as lame now as it was the first time he deployed it. We all know budget cuts are going to be needed, after all. What's more, the Legislature doesn't have to wait for their next session to request a forecast. The Legislature typically gets multiple revenue forecasts during their roughly four-month session.
If Pollert and his fellow lawmakers had requested a new forecast back in March or April or even May, they could have it in their hands right now.
"Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said Wednesday there's no need for a special session because the state will make it through the current two-year budget cycle with the funding it already has," Turley reported.
Wardner wants our state government to continue operating for the next several months as if we have had our state and national economies turned on their heads?
Opponents of a special session will argue that the Legislature's Budget Section committee has been engaged during the coronavirus situation. As large as it is, the Budget Section only has 43 members from the House and Senate. It is not the full Legislature. Many parts of North Dakota have no representation on that committee.
This isn't about policy. This is about the process.
Conservatives talk all the time about the importance of co-equal branches of government.
We can't have separate, co-equal branches of government if one of our branches, in a time of emergency, mostly refuses to govern.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.