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Published December 08, 2010, 09:05 PM

ND Dems Say GOP Gov's Budget OK As a Whole

North Dakota Democrats said Wednesday they believed Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposed income tax cut was misguided, and said they were disappointed the new governor didn't suggest an expansion of a health insurance program that benefits children from low-income families.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Democrats said Wednesday they believed Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposed income tax cut was misguided, and said they were disappointed the new governor didn't suggest an expansion of a health insurance program that benefits children from low-income families.

However, Democratic leaders said Dalrymple's proposed budget for North Dakota state government for the next two years looked OK as a whole, and resembled spending plans that his predecessor, John Hoeven, offered during his 10 years as governor.

"We are certainly willing to work on a lot of the priorities that are in line with our ideals," said Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, the Democratic minority leader.

Those include the budget plan's support for property tax reductions, road repairs in North Dakota's western oil-producing region and increased spending on education, Taylor said.

"We think there are some lapses," he said. "But we really look forward, actually, to working with the governor. We think we can be an ally on a number of these initiatives as they move forward."

Republicans hold two-thirds majorities in both the North Dakota House and Senate. They have 35 seats to Democrats' 12, and a 69-25 advantage in the House.

Dalrymple gave his budget recommendations to a joint session of the North Dakota House and Senate on Wednesday, the final day of the Legislature's three-day organizational session. The 2011 Legislature convenes Jan. 4.

One of Dalrymple's proposals would shave 0.21 percentage points from each of North Dakota's five state income tax brackets, with the top tax rate dropping to 4.65 percent and the lowest declining to 1.63 percent. The reduction would be worth $50 million to taxpayers over two years.

Rep. Jerome Kelsh, D-Fullerton, the House minority leader, said the income tax cut could be reworked to exempt North Dakotans on the lower rungs of the income ladder from paying income tax at all, while leaving the rates intact for higher-income earners.

Other options would be to increase state support for local property tax cuts, or offering a "holiday" from North Dakota's 5 percent sales tax during a specified period, Kelsh said.

"We certainly believe in tax decreases with the money coming in the way it has been," Kelsh said. "We maybe would prioritize that just a little bit different."

Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, the assistant Democratic minority leader, suggested Dalrymple should have advocated an expansion of eligibility for a state health insurance program for children of low-income families, or provided state backing for prekindergarten programs.

"I think it's important to be mindful of what is not in the budget," Schneider said.

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