Gov. Doug Burgum today delivered his 2021 State of the State Address, reflecting on the substantial progress and historic challenges of the past year and calling for bold action and investments in infrastructure and other priorities to position North Dakota for an even brighter future.
Addressing a joint session of the 67th Legislative Assembly on the first day of its biennial session, Burgum noted North Dakotans have experienced much this past year, enduring “a flock of black swan events” including flooding, drought, the ongoing global pandemic, market crashes and major economic contractions that tested citizens in ways no one could have expected.
“Yet, as we look forward together to the 2021-23 biennium, it is clear that we are well-positioned to rebound and recover, thanks to the courage, the grit, the ingenuity and the resiliency of North Dakotans,” Burgum said. “Today, the State of the State is one of optimism and new beginnings, built on the confidence of overcoming adversity and the knowledge that we will emerge stronger than ever.”
Highlighting the state’s continued population growth, Burgum cited the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual estimate released last week that listed North Dakota’s population at a record 765,309 as of July 1, 2020. The state expects to receive its official 2020 decennial census count in the spring.
With interest rates at historic lows, Burgum emphasized the opportunity to bond for roads, bridges, career and technical education centers, and other immediate, one-time infrastructure projects, and to create a $700 million revolving loan fund to provide low-cost financing for current and future generations of projects. Burgum noted the $1.25 billion bonding proposal in his executive budget would not raise taxes or rely on tax revenues to retire the bonds, instead using a portion of earnings from the state’s Legacy Fund.
“We have a historic opportunity to invest in infrastructure, diversify the economy, build healthy, vibrant communities, support research and innovation, transform government and build true legacy projects for the prosperity of North Dakotans for generations to come,” Burgum said. “We can set our state on a positive trajectory by leveraging the ingenuity and resources of the private sector and harnessing the power of the Legacy Fund. And we can accomplish all of this with a fiscally conservative state budget that holds the line on general fund spending, invests in our priorities and maintains healthy reserves, all without raising taxes.”
To ensure that the state’s public higher education institutions have the tools they need to serve students and succeed in a rapidly changing environment, Burgum asked the Legislature, North Dakota University System, and State Board of Higher Education to join in a study and development of a permanent Higher Education Stabilization and Transformation Fund for North Dakota Public Institutions, with the goal of initiation and implementation by 2024.
“This fund should be used to stabilize higher education funding, finding ways to drive growth and incentivize increased public-private partnerships and investment in 21st century education models,” Burgum said.
The governor also highlighted progress made on the administration’s efforts to reinvent government services to make them more effective and efficient, including the new Unified Spill Reporting System he announced today. A working group led by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and supported by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, began planning the Unified Spill Reporting System in 2018. The result, which launched Friday, is a simplified, one-stop reporting system for hazardous materials spills, eliminating the need for producers and the public to report spills to multiple state agencies.
“Through increased collaboration and unified reporting, our state agencies are now better prepared to protect North Dakota’s water, air and soil,” Burgum said.
The governor shared optimism for North Dakota’s rebounding agriculture and energy sectors and the need to support the state’s all-of-the-above approach to energy development. He proposed additional investments in behavioral health services and upgrading information technology systems, highlighted investment and growth in the state’s UAS industry and advocated for the development of more economically sound cities that maximize the use of existing infrastructure and strive to create healthy, vibrant communities and limit property tax growth.
Burgum expressed his deepest gratitude for North Dakota citizens, businesses, state agencies, federal and local partners and others for their efforts to fight the coronavirus, and especially for the frontline health care workers, first responders, educators and others who have worked tirelessly to care for others and adapt to the incredibly challenging pandemic conditions.
North Dakota continues to rank among the top three states in COVID-19 testing per capita and currently ranks third in the nation in the number of people per capita initiating vaccination, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 24,000 North Dakotans have received their first dose of the vaccine so far.
Burgum recognized the important role that Fargo-based biotech company Aldevron has played in the vaccine development, welcoming as special guests founding CEO and Executive Chairman Michael Chambers, current CEO Kevin Ballinger, Senior Manager of Client Relations Matt Krusen and Technical Operations Manager Angelica Meyer.
“Fortunately, we have new tools at our disposal to fight COVID, with effective vaccines, rapid tests that help screen out asymptomatic positives and break the chain of transmission, and effective therapeutics that can drastically improve survival rates when administered at the right time,” Burgum said. “This battle is far from over. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ve got the tools to get us there.”
The governor also recognized special guest Mandy Nelson, whose late husband, Grand Forks Police Officer and North Dakota National Guard 1st Lt. Cody Holte, was killed in the line of duty on May 27, 2020, while responding to a shooting incident.
“Officer Holte selflessly dedicated his life to protecting his community, his state and his country,” Burgum said, adding, “Cody’s legacy of service will live on forever in the hearts and minds of North Dakotans.”