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North Dakota Legislature passes massive $680M bonding package

In a surprising display of harmony between the two chambers of the Legislature, senators voted unanimously on Thursday, April 8, to pass the bonding package in the same form the House of Representatives backed in February. The bill will now go to Gov. Doug Burgum's desk.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built a scale model in Vicksburg, Miss., of a structure that will control Red River flows as part of the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)
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BISMARCK — The North Dakota Legislature has approved a massive $680 million bonding bill, sending the landmark proposal to Gov. Doug Burgum's desk.

In a surprising display of harmony between the two chambers of the Legislature, senators voted unanimously on Thursday, April 8, to pass the bonding package in the same form the House of Representatives backed in February . A spokesman for Burgum declined to comment on House Bill 1431 , but the Republican governor has already shown a willingness to bond for cash, having proposed his own $1.25 billion bonding plan before the legislative session.

North Dakota lawmakers have previously been leery of borrowing funds, but Republican leadership threw its weight behind the plan, which draws on earnings from the state's $8.3 billion oil tax savings account, known as the Legacy Fund, to pay back the bonds to investors in 20 years or fewer.

The bonding plan includes:

  • $435.5 million for the Fargo-Moorhead flood diversion project.
  • $74.5 million for a Minot area flood-control project.
  • $70 million for highway repairs.
  • $50 million for infrastructure loans to cities and counties.
  • $50 million for renovations on Harris Hall, a North Dakota State University agriculture building.

The state has already put about $434.5 million toward the ambitious Fargo flood-prevention endeavor. But if the bonding bill becomes law, it would fulfill the state's pledged $750 million share of the project's cost and boost its total contribution to $870 million. Other funds for the $2.75 billion project are due to come from the federal government and sales taxes levied in Cass County.
Proponents of bonding believe the state should strike while interest rates are low and paying back investors over the next two decades won't put a massive strain on the books. Some fiscal conservatives in the House opposed the legislation, arguing the state shouldn't put itself in debt to investors for the next two decades.

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Senators attached several amendments to the bill before it got to the floor, ballooning the price tag to $1.1 billion, but the additions were ultimately stripped out before the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, has said lawmakers will try to find other sources of funding for the priorities taken out of the bonding package, including $250 million for a "clean sustainable" energy fund that would likely contribute to coal-related projects.

Other lines removed from the bill would have funded technical education centers, township roads, state parks, renovations at Dickinson State University and the University of North Dakota's space command initiative.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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