Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - 08:00pm

Gov. Doug Burgum today delivered his 2020 State of the State address in Grand Forks, calling for more action to address the state’s workforce shortage, highlighting recent progress on diversifying the economy and making North Dakota a more military-friendly state, and outlining a plan for Legacy Fund earnings that includes investing in property tax relief, infrastructure and transformational projects.

“Today, in North Dakota, the State of the State is strong, growing and full of boundless opportunity,” Burgum said. “By seizing this opportunity and rejecting self-imposed limitations, our people, our communities and our state can realize their fullest potential.”

Burgum noted the state’s finances have stabilized and reserves are being rebuilt since the state’s rainy-day fund was nearly drained to cover revenue shortfalls. The Budget Stabilization Fund is expected to reach its statutory cap of $726.5 million – the fund’s highest balance ever – by the end of the current 2019-21 biennium. And general fund revenues through the first six months of this two-year budget cycle are tracking more than 7 percent, or $102 million, ahead of the forecast in place when legislators adjourned last April. The governor’s slide presentation can be viewed here.

“Working together with our legislative partners, we’ve reduced our general fund budget by over $1 billion, increased teacher and state employee pay, made key infrastructure investments, and have done all of this without raising taxes,” Burgum said.

In outlining his plan for the state’s Legacy Fund, Burgum proposed investing the fund’s earnings in three key areas – infrastructure, property tax relief through smart growth incentives, and transformational legacy projects – with the rest of the earnings being reinvested in the Legacy Fund to grow the principal faster for future generations. The Legacy Fund currently has a balance of nearly $6.8 billion and would grow to over $26 billion by 2033 under a model presented today. Earnings from the fund this biennium could exceed $400 million.

The governor also laid out his criteria for legacy projects and identified one project that meets the criteria: supporting workforce development and choice-ready students through the construction and expansion of career academies.

“By investing in infrastructure, transformational projects and property tax relief through smart growth incentives, we can improve the quality of life for all North Dakotans and ensure that our state is well-positioned for the future,” Burgum said, noting the proposed incentive program and a 10-year-old infrastructure plan will be developed over the next 10 months.

North Dakota’s population has grown by 13 percent since 2010, from approximately 674,000 to an estimated record high of 762,000 people last July, Burgum noted. The governor encouraged strong participation in the upcoming 2020 Census, noting that for every person not counted, the state stands to lose an estimated $19,100 in federal funding over the next decade.

Burgum highlighted efforts to diversify North Dakota’s economy, including the state’s $28 million investment in a first-of-its-kind statewide infrastructure network to allow unmanned aerial vehicles to fly beyond visual line of sight, without a chase plane. The governor also touted progress made on the administration’s five strategic initiatives: Reinventing Government, Transforming Education, Behavioral Health and Addiction, Tribal Partnerships and the Main Street Initiative.

Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and University of North Dakota Interim President Dr. Joshua Wynne both provided welcome remarks for the address at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on the University of North Dakota campus, with Wynne calling it a “landmark day” not only for UND but also the Grand Forks area for hosting the State of the State. This was Burgum’s fourth State of the State address since taking office Dec. 15, 2016, and his second outside of the Capitol. He delivered his 2018 address at Minot State University. Today’s event was sponsored by the Greater North Dakota Chamber. 

Following the event, Burgum met with Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown and city officials, members of the governor’s cabinet, state legislators, economic development officials, young professionals and others to discuss community projects, initiatives and future opportunities such as construction projects, research and workforce development. Afterward, the governor toured LaGrave on First, the city’s first permanent supportive housing project designed to meet the needs of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.