WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published February 27, 2011, 12:03 AM

ND Legislature Spending Too Much GOP Leader Says

Republican control of the North Dakota Legislature hasn't stopped almost 12 percent growth in proposed state spending, a trend GOP leaders say must be reversed when lawmakers resume their work next week.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Republican control of the North Dakota Legislature hasn't stopped almost 12 percent growth in proposed state spending, a trend GOP leaders say must be reversed when lawmakers resume their work next week.

"We have passed bills to bring our wildest dreams to fruition," said Sen. Randy Christmann, R-Hazen, the Senate's assistant majority leader. "In the second half, we're going to have to cut some of those back."

Both the House and Senate began a five-day midsession break Friday, which is called "crossover." When the session resumes Wednesday, votes in both chambers take on more significance, because they often represent the Legislature's last review of a new state law.

"I don't want to say things are for fun the first half of session, but we all realize that that's just the start of things," said Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, the Senate majority leader. "It's really serious after crossover."

Although some House reductions in GOP Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposed budget have drawn attention, including $32.8 million in trims for North Dakota's university system, the Legislature is on track to boost state general fund spending by $385.8 million over two years.

North Dakota's general fund is financed mostly by taxes on sales, income and energy; it has swelled in recent years along with a boom in oil production in western North Dakota.

The Legislature is now on track for a two-year general fund budget of $3.65 billion, with a total budget, including federal aid, of more than $9 billion.

The House and Senate are also expected to fight over tax cuts as they work to finish a spending plan for North Dakota government for the next two years.

Senators have endorsed Dalrymple's proposal to reduce individual income taxes by $50 million. The House wants more — $100 million in individual income tax reductions and $50 million worth of corporate tax cuts.

Both chambers have been supporting the continuation of a state subsidy plan for local property taxes, in which school districts will be given almost $342 million over two years to finance a continued reduction of their property tax rates.

"Putting money back into the hands of the people is a big deal," said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader.

Democrats, who have fewer than one-third of the seats in the House and Senate, have offered an alternative income-tax plan that would distribute $46 million in income tax credits to taxpayers next year.

The Senate's Democratic leader, Ryan Taylor of Towner, unsuccessfully pushed legislation to exempt clothing and shoes from North Dakota's 5 percent sales tax.

Democrats promised to challenge the proposed higher education reduction — which cuts the governor's preferred 9.3 percent spending increase on the state's university system to about 4 percent — and a separate House vote to eliminate $15 million in "centers of excellence" grants to colleges in the state Commerce Department's budget.

Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, the Senate's assistant minority leader, called the centers of excellence decision "stunningly shortsighted" and described the changes to the university system's budget as "radical." Schneider's district includes the University of North Dakota.

"I think they're not going to be very well-received over here," Schneider said.

Rep. Jerome Kelsh, D-Fullerton, the House minority leader, said Dalrymple himself will need to get involved in defending his own budget priorities during the Legislature' second half.

"His budget was halfway reasonable, and we supported it at the beginning, and we support it now," Kelsh said. "The governor has to step up to the plate . . . so we're not ending up with cuts."

Tags: