BISMARCK — A committee that considers budget requests between North Dakota's legislative sessions has rejected a proposed transfer that would impact the state's poet laureate program and which one top lawmaker called "as wrong as you can get."
The Budget Section in a 34-1 vote on Wednesday, June 26, rejected the request from the state Council on the Arts to transfer $10,000 in grant money for the poet laureate program to increase a temporary employee's salaried hours. The request was "not something that should happen," said Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, the chief House budget writer.
"We would be changing what the whole Legislature voted on about two months ago," he said, referring to the 2019 session that adjourned in April. "If we did this, I think for two years we can look at almost every agency that did not like what they got from the Legislature coming in and trying to do this. This is wrong. It's as wrong as you can get."
Reps. Lisa Meier, R-Bismarck, and Gary Kreidt, R-New Salem, agreed, saying such requests should be made as part of the legislative process.
"I think this is a slippery slope, and I think that right now this is definitely something we shouldn't be doing," Meier said.
Council Executive Director Kim Konikow appeared briefly to answer a question, saying that the request was part of her previous 2019 budget testimony to House and Senate appropriations committees but was one of two that "didn't happen."
"I can only say that I think there was an overload and there were two items that were completely overlooked," she said.
Delzer disputed the budget request as "overlooked" in the session.
"This was discussed. It was talked about in the committee," he said.
He also said the budget request would go against a bill from the 2019 session that put criteria in law for the Budget Section to weigh when considering budget requests.
The bill, which hasn't yet taken effect, outlines powers and duties of the Budget Section after a North Dakota Supreme Court ruling in a lawsuit involving the Legislature and Gov. Doug Burgum. Justices ruled the Budget Section had "unconstitutionally encroached" upon executive authority in spending provisions in several 2017 budget bills.
Konikow declined to comment on the Budget Section's rejection. She previously said the request would answer a need for increased staffing.
North Dakota Poet Laureate Larry Woiwode, who was unaware of the budget request that would eliminate his programming before an interview Tuesday, said he was "very pleased" with the Budget Section's vote.
"I have dedicated 24 years to this office, reached thousands of North Dakota students and probably that many community members, also," Woiwode said.
The $10,000 in grant money, derived from a pool contributed 50-50 by the state Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts, enables him to do 10 events over two years, mainly in schools.
Woiwode's next event is July 10 at the North Dakota Heritage Center, when he inducts Bonnie Larson Staiger, of Bismarck, as a new associate poet laureate.