Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford this week marked their third anniversary of being sworn into office, reflecting on meaningful strides made by state agencies and through collaboration with the Legislature, statewide elected officials, tribal nations and others as they seek to empower people, improve lives and inspire success.
“We are filled with gratitude every day for the opportunity to serve the citizens of North Dakota and for the many local, state, federal and tribal partners who work with our administration to improve the quality of life in our great state,” said Burgum, who took office Dec. 15, 2016.
Building on the previous two years, the Burgum administration continued to advance the governor’s five strategic initiatives: the Main Street Initiative, Behavioral Health and Addiction, Transforming Education, Tribal Partnerships and Reinventing Government – driving toward a more efficient, responsive and transparent state government.
The administration also continued to employ a whole-of-government approach to addressing natural disasters, starting with spring flooding that caused more than $10 million in estimated damage to public infrastructure.
In June, President Trump granted the governor’s request for a presidential major disaster declaration for spring flooding, and last week Burgum requested another presidential declaration for damage caused by flooding during the wettest August-to-October period on record in 125 years in North Dakota. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also has approved a secretarial disaster designation for 47 of North Dakota’s 53 counties, making loan assistance available to farmers and ranchers – just one of many examples of robust state-federal cooperation between the Burgum and Trump administrations.
In his annual State of the State address that kicked off the 2019 legislative session in January, Burgum highlighted the state’s record-high population of 760,000, its No. 1 quality of life ranking, strong assets derived from abundant natural resources – oil production surpassed 1.5 million barrels a day in October for the first time in state history – and private-sector prosperity driving the state’s robust economy, saying, “We stand at the cusp of a new era in North Dakota’s history. And by harnessing the courage to dare greatly, we will cultivate a prosperous future for generations to come.”
Burgum will discuss the state's successes and challenges and his agenda when he delivers his fourth State of the State address on Jan. 29 at the Chester Fritz Auditorium on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks. The event is free and open to the public. The Greater North Dakota Chamber is sponsoring the event, which will be livestreamed. Additional details will be released in the coming weeks.
Session delivers for citizens
Working with the 66th Legislative Assembly, Burgum delivered a two-year budget for 2019-21 that replenished depleted reserve funds and makes substantial investments in education, infrastructure, behavioral health, diversifying the economy and other priorities – all without raising taxes.
In cooperation with lawmakers, the governor signed legislation:
- Providing nearly $174 million in property tax relief by continuing the state’s responsibility for funding county social services, while also reorganizing county social service units into 19 zones to allow the state to respond more efficiently to social service needs. The Department of Human Services (DHS) is working with counties to create administrative hubs for managing and delivering social services, which will reduce duplicative administrative costs and shift those resources to programs and services for North Dakotans. Zone agreements have all been submitted and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
- Exempting military retirement pay from state income tax.
- Providing an income tax deduction on Social Security benefits for filers up to a certain income level.
- Increasing state support for K-12 schools by nearly $163 million, supporting teacher pay increases and helping to limit property taxes. The governor and Legislature increased the per-pupil payment by 2 percent in each year – putting it above $10,000 for the first time in state history – and allowed school districts to keep more revenue from their state formula payment to help limit the cost of school construction.
- Replenishing the state’s rainy-day Budget Stabilization Fund and returning the state to a strong financial position after revenues dropped sharply in 2016.
- Changing the distribution of oil and gas tax revenues to provide an estimated $250 million in additional funding to cities, counties and townships in non-oil producing areas for essential infrastructure projects starting in the 2021-23 biennium. The law also preserved critical ongoing allocations for oil-producing areas and hub cities.
- Providing $82.5 million for Mouse River flood control in the Minot area and $66.5 million for Fargo-area flood control including the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project, along with hundreds of millions of dollars for water supply and other flood control projects across the state.
- Investing $28 million to create a statewide infrastructure network to support the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) beyond visual line of sight – making North Dakota a magnet to attract new UAS startups and major aerospace companies and keeping the state at the forefront of the UAS industry.
- Providing occupational license reciprocity for eligible trailing spouses of military personnel, a recommendation of the state’s revitalized Workforce Development Council. Burgum has advocated for universal licensing recognition – making it easier for people already licensed in another state to get licensed at the same level in North Dakota – to cut red tape and help address the state’s workforce shortage.
- Supporting the establishment of a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Medora. After $100 million in private donations is raised for construction of the world-class destination, the earnings from a $50 million state endowment will be used to operate the facility.
Substantial progress also continued to be made on the governor’s five strategic initiatives:
- A historic compact signed by Burgum and Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox in February, and later ratified by the Legislature, changed how the state and tribes share tax revenue from new oil and gas activity on trust and fee lands. The bill resulted from nearly two years of dialogue and work by the legislative interim Tribal Taxation Issues Committee, which was first created by the 2017 Legislature and is again being chaired by Burgum during the 2019-21 interim.
- For the first time in more than 35 years, the Department of Human Services and the MHA Nation, Spirit Lake Nation, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa signed updated comprehensive agreements to enhance child welfare services for Native American children and families. The agreements allow tribes to receive federal Title IV-E funds through the state to support an enhanced array of child welfare services, expanded subsidized adoption services and the subsidized guardianship program.
- During his 2019 State of the State Address, Burgum directed the flags of the five tribal nations that share geography with North Dakota to be displayed in the Capitol’s Memorial Hall for the first time. Lawmakers have since approved the flags as a permanent display.
- Legislation was passed authorizing the governor to enter state-tribal agreements for sales, use and gross receipts taxes, as well as for a per capita distribution of alcoholic beverages wholesale tax, tobacco wholesale tax and alcoholic beverages gross receipts.
- The state Tourism Division fostered tribal relations through partnerships with the North Dakota Native American Tourism Alliance, inspiring expanded tourism offerings to showcase North Dakota as a premier tribal tourism destination. MHA Tourism will be featured on the 2020 cover of Great American West Magazine showcased in seven markets and 17 countries.
- Led by the Information Technology Department, North Dakota became the first state to authorize a central, shared service approach to cybersecurity across all aspects of state government. The state network has 252,000 daily users and over 400 entities, and this approach will help defend against millions of cyberattacks per month. More than $15 million was also invested to enhance the state’s cybersecurity software and initiatives.
- As Burgum pushed for greater efficiency through more automatically collected data, the State Water Commission deployed more than 100 PRESENS devices (Pushing Remote SENSors) at various locations. These solar-powered remote sensing devices allow real-time environmental data collection, saving time and money compared to on-site measurements. The devices were deployed to gain a better understanding of hydrology, conduct streamflow measurements and collect data on groundwater.
- A project launched in 2017 to provide standard backend technology for state websites began to pay off, resulting in more than $1 million in cost avoidance and allowing for substantial savings in staff hours spent procuring, maintaining and securing individual sites. Currently, 45 sites are on the platform with more expected in 2020.
- The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) launched an online bidding process for customers interested in purchasing vehicles from the State Fleet. About 18% of the vehicles purchased during the June auction were sold through online bidding.
- The Department of Commerce successfully launched a new nd.gov website with the state’s refreshed “Be Legendary” brand. To date, the website has garnered more than 400,000 visits and nearly 2 million pageviews, creating an engaging citizen experience.
- Job Service North Dakota took its employer registration process online. Software feeds relevant questions to each applicant based on previous responses, eliminating pages of questions. Employers receive immediate account information necessary to operate their business – things like new account numbers, automated determinations of liability, tax rates, etc., which used to be processed manually and took days or weeks to deliver.
- Job Service, Workforce Safety Insurance and the Secretary of State are partnering to build a new state login and authentication process, known as Enterprise Identity Management. Still in the early stages of development, it will streamline access to state applications by individuals and/or employers and could be shared by all agencies.
- The North Dakota Department of Labor achieved a zero-case backlog as it underwent a business process improvement review, updated software and identified areas for automation and greater efficiency.
- North Dakota became the first state in the nation to receive a federal waiver designed to help consumers by reducing wait times for real estate appraisers. The waiver was requested by the state Department of Financial Institutions, North Dakota Bankers Association and the governor.
Main Street Initiative
- The Department of Commerce hosted a three-day educational summit welcoming over 1,300 attendees, offering 67 breakout sessions and building connections across the state, with city leaders sharing examples of how the Main Street Initiative has benefited their communities. Commerce also is hosting eight regional Main Street convenings around the state, providing opportunities for networking, learning and sharing of best practices.
- The Main Street community leaders’ network now has over 170 members. Through this group, Commerce has hosted 23 webinars that were recorded and are now available on the Commerce website. Commerce also hosted Main Street listening sessions in 12 communities and provided technical assistance and project development support to the 70 Main Street communities by alerting them of resources, sharing best practices and talking through community projects.
- The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) awarded 14 Urban Grant projects totaling over $42 million to improve transportation infrastructure in core business districts in cities of over 5,000 people to promote multimodal transportation. Examples include new sidewalks, bike lanes, bus shelters, colored concrete and trees. Four of the projects constructed this past summer were Third and Central avenues in Valley City, downtown Devils Lake and 10th Street in Fargo.
- Inspired by the Main Street Initiative, Burgum announced “Reimagining the Rural West” as his central policy initiative as 2020 chair of the Western Governors’ Association. The yearlong initiative will examine challenges and opportunities in rural economic development, infrastructure and quality of life, as well as identify best practices and recommend policies to support vibrant rural communities in the West.
Behavioral Health and Addiction
- Substantial progress was made to address North Dakota’s behavioral health crisis, as the Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Health Division focused on three key objectives: support the full continuum of care, increase community-based services and prevent criminal justice involvement. The Legislature and governor approved multiple programs and initiatives that when implemented in 2020 will address behavioral health needs across the state.
- The Office of Recovery Reinvented, guided by an advisory board chaired by First Lady Kathryn Burgum, continued to promote efforts to eliminate the shame and stigma surrounding the disease of addiction. More than 1,000 people attended the 2019 Recovery Reinvented summit in person and over 1,000 watched online in November, including broadcasts into the state’s correctional facilities. The governor and first lady also awarded 17 grants to the winners of North Dakota’s first-ever Youth Ending Stigma (YES) Challenge, which enables student-led initiatives and projects focused on eliminating social stigma surrounding behavioral health issues including addiction and mental illness.
- As Burgum proposed in his executive budget address, the 2019-21 budget provides additional funding – $7 million – to expand Free Through Recovery, a partnership between DHS and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR). This community-based behavioral health program is designed to increase recovery support services for individuals involved with the criminal justice system who have behavioral health concerns. An additional $4 million for the program in the DHS budget allowed the program to expand beyond corrections.
- The Behavioral Health Division’s annual Behavioral Health Conference held Nov. 13-15, 2019 set an attendance record. More than 550 behavioral health clinicians, peer support specialists, health care professionals, community agencies, consumers and family members came together to learn about new behavioral health initiatives, connect with state and national behavioral health leaders and advance their skills. Also new this year, the conference provided sessions for peer support specialists, and more than 60 trained peer support specialists attended. The DOCR also implemented a peer support program with peer support specialists who have the lived experience of being incarcerated and mental illness or substance abuse.
- The DHS expanded behavioral health walk-in services to five days weekly at all regional human service centers and also is expanding telehealth providers, service types, and total client volume for medication prescribing, addiction counseling, psychotherapy and assessment.
- The North Dakota Department of Health aggressively addressed the vaping epidemic using a whole-agency approach, gathering experts from Emergency Preparedness & Response, Injury & Violence Prevention, Tobacco Prevention, Epidemiology and Disease Control. Through these efforts, a reporting hotline and vaping dashboard were created.
- The K-20W initiative, a statewide, comprehensive approach to computer science and cybersecurity education and workforce training, received a national award, and North Dakota became the first state in the nation to begin implementing newly drafted computer and cybersecurity science standards for students of all ages. The coalition driving K-20W – named to reflect every student from kindergarten through PhD and workforce – is comprised of more than 40 public and private sector participants who share the goal of “Every Student. Every School. Cyber Educated.”
- Burgum signed legislation creating the K-12 Education Coordinating Council – as recommended by the governor’s Innovative Education Task Force – to organize and disseminate information about innovative best practices that support teachers and students. This unique framework puts teachers, administrators, school boards, legislators, other K-12 stakeholders and the Governor’s Office around the same table to work together for the state’s students and their futures.
- Funding for the Higher Education Challenge Fund, which requires a 2-to-1 match and provides grants to support North Dakota’s public colleges and universities, primarily with scholarships, was increased to $9.4 million. The higher education budget provides up to $100 million in bonding authority and nearly $50 million in direct appropriations for campus infrastructure.
- The North Dakota Securities Department continued to deliver innovative financial education programs to students across the state. Through the Stock Market Game program and a partnership with the National Theatre for Children, the department helped over 4,700 North Dakota students build money skills and financial capability.
Citizen-focused agencies make progress
In addition, state agencies worked hard to deliver core services and improve outcomes in many areas:
- The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) expanded Vision Zero, a comprehensive effort launched in 2018 by NDDOT, the Highway Patrol and the Department of Health to work toward zero motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries on North Dakota roads. Traffic fatality numbers decreased since the launch of Vision Zero, from 116 in 2017 to 105 in 2018 and were on track to be less than 100 in 2019. Expansion of the program this past year included additional funding; more highway safety engineering systems, law enforcement equipment and programs; the establishment of highway safety corridors; crash data improvements and dashboards; and Vision Zero Schools, a new peer-to-peer program in high schools.
- The Department of Health’s Division of Medical Marijuana opened eight regional medical marijuana dispensaries across the state, issued 1,835 identification cards to qualifying patients or designated caregivers and became the first state in the nation to add an electronic card option for patients, caregivers and agents of dispensaries and manufacturing facilities.
- The NDDOT launched Drive ND to improve driver’s license customer service and reduce wait times through expansion and modernization of various driver’s license operations. Drive ND focuses on seven steps geared to improve driver’s license renewal and testing processes, including increasing staff numbers in Fargo, Bismarck and Williston, expanding REAL ID services on Saturdays, relocating the Fargo driver’s license office, working with schools and businesses to provide more driver’s license testing, and renovating the Minot and Williston offices.
- The NDDOT also received a four-year waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate UAS over people – the first time a North Dakota state agency has received a waiver to routinely conduct UAS operations over people. As part of the state’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, this enabled drone operations over flooded areas in eastern North Dakota last spring to help inform the public of road conditions and other updates.
- In response to record wet fall weather, and working in cooperation with Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and other state agencies, Burgum signed executive orders waiving certain restrictions on hauling of hay, livestock, propane and other petroleum products to help farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses dealing with the compressed harvest season. The state’s Emergency Commission also approved an Emergency Feed Transportation Assistance Program to help producers who have verified losses as a result of the extraordinary weather conditions this fall. Officials from nearly a dozen state agencies gathered in early December to begin flood planning efforts in anticipation of spring flooding in 2020.
- The Department of Commerce developed and rolled out the Nonresident Nurse Employment Recruitment Program designed to attract and retain highly-qualified nurses to North Dakota.
- Workforce Safety and Insurance (WSI) reported that injury rates in North Dakota fell for the seventh consecutive year, with a rate of 4.86 claims filed per 100 covered workers in fiscal year 2019. The agency partnered with Sanford Health on an Enhanced Injury Care Project, a health screening pilot project designed to identify and address patients who may have pre-existing psychosocial or behavioral risks that might inhibit the healing process. Employer premiums also were reduced for the fourth consecutive year.
- The Office of Management and Budget assumed responsibility for both the Bank of North Dakota and the Housing and Finance Agency payroll operations with no additional payroll staff, creating efficiency for both agencies and facilitating a work-as-one approach to payroll for all of state government.
- A new North Dakota state careers website was developed, along with an upgrade to the online application process, to improve the experience for career seekers and provide state agencies with a more efficient process for posting and filling job openings. North Dakota had nearly 15,000 online job openings in November, up 12 percent from the same month one year ago, with total openings statewide estimated at closer to 30,000.
- Team ND members have new career development opportunities through the new “Leadership Everywhere” staff development program. This program includes 10 courses for all Team ND members and 11 courses for people managers. Leadership Everywhere courses are available on demand, in-person and through webinars. As of December 1, 2019, over 2,000 employees have taken a Leadership Everywhere course.
- The State Water Commission launched the North Dakota Risk Assessment MapService (NDRAM), a valuable tool for residents, emergency managers and community leaders seeking flood risk information. Designed in-house, the user-friendly, interactive web interface provides water surface elevations, flood depths and the ability to download engineering model data and print customized maps. NDRAM, a collaborative effort with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is available at https://ndram.swc.nd.gov/.
- The DOCR’s Parole and Probation obtained the funding and authority to establish a pretrial services pilot program in North Dakota. The program could have a significant impact on reducing the effects of crime and improving outcomes for people who become involved in the criminal justice system.
- The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department partnered with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, North Dakota Game and Fish, Industrial Commission and the Ransom County Park Board to create the Sheyenne River Water Trail. This new trail provides canoeing, kayaking, fishing, camping and hunting access to users. This project won the 2019 Regional Forester Honor Award for providing outstanding benefits to the public.
- Game and Fish Department fisheries personnel stocked more than 140 lakes across the state with walleye fingerlings, completing one of the largest stocking efforts in the history of the agency. This included more than 11.3 million fingerlings from Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery, besting the previous record walleye production by nearly 1 million fish. Hunting and fishing in North Dakota contribute an estimated $2.1 billion in annual input to the state’s economy, according to a report finalized in 2019 by the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at North Dakota State University.
- Game and Fish also received the North Dakota Forest Service's "Excellence in Government" award, recognizing the cooperative efforts of the department and its fellow conservation partners in the acquisition and donation of 160 acres of forested land that will provide excellent opportunities for nature enthusiast and outdoor recreationists such as hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, bird-watching and nature-viewing.
- Since becoming an independent state agency in April, the Department of Environmental Quality has initiated a new industry self-audit program resulting in earlier detection and remediation of environmental violations, improving North Dakota’s environment. The DEQ, which was previously part of the Department of Health, also accepted responsibility for three programs – two transferred from other state agencies (Boiler Inspection and Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Fund) and a newly established Clean Air Act federal air quality program addressing emissions in the oilfield.
- North Dakota National Guard soldiers from the Wahpeton-based 188th Engineer Company (Vertical) supported Cass County’s flood operations with a Quick Reaction Force, which responded to several requests for emergency sandbag deliveries and other missions. Six soldiers with the 957th Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge) departed for Kuwait in July 2019 and are assigned to Task Force Frontier to train, advise and assist the Iraq Army engineer bridge corps. North Dakota Army National Guard aviators are in Arizona with aviation assets in support of the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) border security mission. The Guard also welcomed home from Afghanistan 30 soldiers from the 191st Military Police Company.
- Representatives from more than 50 local, state and federal agencies conducted a three-day disaster response exercise July 17-19, which was sponsored by the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services (NDDES) at the State Emergency Operations Center on Fraine Barracks in Bismarck. The exercise scenario, which included a hazardous chemical spill, was designed to test participants’ ability to collaborate with their counterparts in a multi-jurisdictional environment.
- The Department of Mineral Resources’ new NorthSTAR (Statewide Tracking and Reporting) System is streamlining regulatory form filing, reducing data entry and making it easier for the public to access data. The department also accommodated record oil and gas production and over 1,100 new permits without increasing FTEs or average permitting time.
- Pipeline operators involved in the intelligent Pipeline Integrity Program (iPIPE) – a partnership between industry and the state that arose from a challenge by Gov. Burgum to set the goal at zero spills – also continue to develop new technologies to prevent and detect pipeline leaks.
Burgum also continued to work collaboratively with the Trump administration for the benefit of North Dakota, including emphasizing the need for strong trade agreements during a visit by Agriculture Secretary Perdue; welcoming U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams to the Main Street ND Summit; attending the signing of the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement at the White House; touring Theodore Roosevelt National Park with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to highlight the need for upgrades; signing a memorandum of understanding with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler to renew the commitment to collaborate with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which Burgum chairs; and meeting with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie to discuss ways to enhance services for military veterans.
“With respect for the past, gratitude for the present and inspiration for the future, Lt. Gov. Sanford, First Lady Kathryn and I remain as committed as ever to encouraging the growth and innovation that will empower people, improve lives and inspire success for all North Dakotans,” Burgum said.