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North Dakota Senate majority leader discusses goals for 2019: Workforce development, pay raises top priorities

BISMARCK — While most folks make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or give up vices, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner has resolutions of a different nature — his goals for 2019 involve increasing the limited workforce and sharing the wealth of the state with the men and women who work hard in its service.

With the new legislative session underway, Wardner, R-Dickinson, set his sights on pay raises for state employees. He expressed gratitude for their hard work and said the legislature needs to “make sure they get a salary increase.”

That money could come from a revenue source Wardner wants to see enhanced this session.

“(We should) make sure we work on getting more value added into our ag and our energy sectors,” he said. “That means in our state we pass laws … that will bring more value to our products before they leave the state.”

Ensuring funding resources are available and utilized strategically was what he described as the “biggest challenge” he anticipates in the coming session, with state employee salaries being a part of that. But the needs of those suffering around the state are also something he wants to tackle.

“We make sure the things that are important are taken care of and given priority,” Wardner said. He singled out behavioral health and addiction as areas for which adequate funding is a necessity.

Gov. Doug Burgum’s budget proposal was largely met positively by Wardner, though with some exceptions — most notably, the contentious proposal to relocate the women’s prison in New England to Bismarck.

“I am on the side for keeping it in New England. I’ll be supporting leaving it where it is,” he said. “The only complaint I think has any merit … is the fact that for some people it’s a long way to get their families down there to visit prisoners. But other than that, I think New England has done a good job.”

Where he did agree with the governor was the want for more support to education spending.

He spoke to the importance education plays in workforce development, another goal for the coming session.

“The governor has in his budget career and tech schools. That’s an important thing to me — we keep talking about how we don’t have enough workforce in the state … and we don’t,” he said. “But I think, after this session, we’re going to be able to say ‘you know what? We’re going to start promoting these career academies.’ Instead of everybody going to four years of college, we’re going to have people go out to one or two years and getting a trade or skill … that is needed in our workforce.”