There’s always more work for legislators to do during the session — one more bill to read, one more committee meeting to attend or one more vote to cast.
But increasingly, there’s yet another thing to be considered: the Biden administration.
Joe Biden has been president just a handful of weeks, but already his office — along with a U.S. Senate now led by Democrats — is casting a long shadow in North Dakota. Many oil workers already are worried about what the new administration will mean for the oil industry. And Sen. Curt Kreun, R-Grand Forks, talked this week about the president’s decision to revoke a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
“Our energy sector has really got to be worked on, monitored closely so we can make sure everything comes out good. It's a little bit under attack by the present administration,” Kreun said, worrying what the president’s attitude toward oil could mean in North Dakota as the years wear on. “These regulations could put a pretty large reduction in our workforce."
But the president’s work is inspiring some local legislators, too. Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, has been closely watching the president’s campaign pledge to forgive $10,000 off student loans, wondering if something similar could be done with the Bank of North Dakota’s student lending.
But some of the biggest national news to land in Bismarck is the latest round of COVID stimulus — currently a far-ranging $1.9 trillion package that could include beefed-up unemployment benefits and even a minimum wage increase. And legislators in Bismarck are carefully watching as they weigh their own spending bills, eyeing federal stimulus against their own spending.
"It's kind of causing some concerns about, how do we (in the state House) finish this budget before we hand it off to the Senate,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks. “And same thing for them."
This could prove especially true of the state’s much-touted bonding bill — a plan under which state leaders are expected to borrow significant sums at low, pandemic-era interest rates to finance infrastructure projects statewide. Final numbers are far from certain, but it’s been a closely watched item for weeks. That’s especially true in Grand Forks, where leaders have hoped it could be a boon for the local economy.
Not everyone is so closely focused on federal stimulus spending, though. Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, has been working on student per-pupil payments for K-12 schools — angling, he said, for modest 1% annual increases in the coming biennium.
“(Stimulus is) one-time money, that’s not part of the funding formula, that’s not part of any ongoing spending,” Owens said. “Because with ongoing spending, you have to do it all over again in two years.”
And while state Rep. Mary Adams, D-Grand Forks, said she doesn’t dwell much on the Biden administration, she does sense that politics in Bismarck are shifting — for whatever reason.
"This is my second session,” she said. “It seems like it's more anti-government than it ever was.”