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Published October 29, 2011, 08:51 AM

North Dakota Democrats Promote Agenda for Special Session

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers should approve at least $50 million for public works projects in western North Dakota's oil-producing region when they begin their special session next month, Democrats said Friday.

By: DALE WETZEL, Associated Press

Democrats' wish list for the session, which begins Nov. 7 and is expected to last a week, includes a state promise to cover three-quarters of the local costs of buying up homes and property in flood-prone areas after last spring and summer's extensive statewide flooding.

Local governments also should not have to pick up a 3 percent local contribution for the cost of repairing flood-damaged public works, Democratic leaders said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is paying 90 percent of those expenses and has distributed more than $25 million so far.

"This is an opportunity for the legislators to stand up and say ... 'This is our chance to do what is right for you,'" said Rep. Jerry Kelsh, D-Fullerton, the House minority leader.

Republicans control both the House and Senate, and Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, said Friday that Republican lawmakers and GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple would have their own disaster relief package for the Legislature.

Democrats did not include cost estimates for most of their proposals, and it is uncertain whether any of them will be introduced. During the special session, bill introductions must be approved by a Republican-controlled committee in the House or Senate.

Senate rules, however, give Democrats leeway to attempt to attach their proposals to related legislation.

The state Office of Management and Budget has not been asked to provide estimates of what the measures would cost, director Pam Sharp said.

The Legislative Council, which is the Legislature's research arm, does not normally request cost estimates on legislation until the bill is formally introduced, said Allen Knudson, the council's top budget analyst.

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said that although state finances are healthy, they are not as robust as some lawmakers might think.

"Everybody thinks we have so much money," Wardner said. "People talk about the word billion all the time. We do not have a billion dollars."

The state budget office's most recent report on state tax collections said at September's end, general fund revenues were running $92.4 million ahead of forecasts since July 1, when the 2011-13 budget cycle for North Dakota state government began.

During the Legislature's regular session this year, lawmakers approved a $100 million fund to provide public works aid for western North Dakota communities affected by the region's booming oil development.

During the first round of money distributions, local governments made $142 million worth of requests. Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner, the Senate's minority leader, said the Legislature should take steps to meet the stronger demand.

"I think there are legitimate needs for the money. I don't think they're just puffing up applications for things that they would think would be nice to have," Taylor said. "I think it's things that they desperately need."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.