Friday, October 29, 2021 - 12:39 pm

Gov. Doug Burgum today issued an executive order convening a special session of the North Dakota Legislature on Nov. 8 to address legislative redistricting, tax relief and strategic investments in infrastructure, workforce, economic development and other priorities.

Burgum made the announcement during a press conference at the Capitol with House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner. It follows weeks of discussions and negotiations with legislative leaders on the scope of a special session and issues to be addressed, including allocation of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). On Thursday, House and Senate appropriators agreed on an ARPA investment plan to submit to the full Legislature.

“Working with legislative leaders, we’ve identified common ground on many priorities that can help modernize our infrastructure, support workforce initiatives, grow and diversify our economy and improve the efficiency of government services, making our state more competitive and creating long-term cost savings for North Dakota citizens,” Burgum said. “This special session will give lawmakers the time and flexibility they need to complete legislative redistricting and make wise investments that provide a high return for taxpayers without growing government.”

“I want to thank the Governor for calling a special session because it makes it much easier for us as leaders to navigate that session,” Wardner said during the press conference. “This is one-time spending. This is not growing government. This will be spending that will take things off the table so that as we go forward … we will not have to levy taxes in order to get these things done.”

“The infrastructure bill will help us get those things going faster so that we’re into a construction season instead of waiting until 2023,” Pollert said, specifically highlighting a $150 million proposal for infrastructure to bring natural gas service from western to eastern North Dakota.

State law requires the Legislature to convene for legislative redistricting after each decennial census. The 2020 census figures needed for redistricting were released in August.

In addition to redistricting, the governor’s order calls for the special session to address funding sources for statewide infrastructure and capital projects that were approved by the Legislature last spring, as well as natural gas infrastructure; statewide workforce programs; economic development opportunities; road, water and deferred maintenance needs; and income tax relief.

The state has just over $1 billion in ARPA State Fiscal Relief funds and $113 million in ARPA Coronavirus Capital Projects funds, for a total of $1.12 billion. Lawmakers authorized $423 million in appropriations last spring for transportation infrastructure and capital projects if federal funding could be identified, and Burgum is recommending they reauthorize those appropriations using ARPA dollars.

For the remaining $697 million in ARPA funds, Burgum outlined his recommendations in his Accelerate ND plan released Sept. 30. Since then, interim legislative appropriations committees have been meeting to work through those and other proposals.

Burgum also has recommended using approximately half of the state’s $413 million excess ending fund balance from the 2019-21 biennium to provide an individual income tax credit of up to $500 per filed return, per year, for 2021 and 2022 for North Dakota resident taxpayers.

“We strongly urge the Legislature to consider this proposal, which would provide meaningful tax relief to an estimated 350,000 North Dakotans whose hard work and resiliency has kept our economy strong through the pandemic,” Burgum said. “Our reserve funds are full, and general fund revenues are already running $60 million ahead of forecast through just the first three months of this biennium. We can afford to – and we should want to – provide this tax relief to our hardworking citizens.”

In addition, the governor has proposed investing $100 million of the excess funds to further drive economic development and research through existing state programs, and $100 million as a cash infusion into the state’s pension fund to address the fund’s estimated $1.6 billion unfunded liability, which negatively affects local bond ratings and increases borrowing costs at all levels of government.

Approved by Congress in March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act allocated a total of $3.2 billion to North Dakota. Approximately $1.85 billion was dedicated to economic impact payments to individuals and program grants to specific entities, while $242 million is going directly to cities and counties.