2 lawmakers tapped to fill powerful budget posts in North Dakota Legislature
The head budget writers from last year's session are among the dozens of former legislators who will not return in 2023.
BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers will be lobbying their superiors for preferred committee assignments during a three-day organizational session this week, but Republican leaders have already made up their minds about who will serve atop the powerful budget-writing committees.
Rep. Don Vigesaa, a Cooperstown Republican, will become the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said House Majority Leader Mike Lefor.
In the other chamber, Williston Republican Brad Bekkedahl will take charge of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Senate Majority Leader David Hogue.
The head budget writers from last year's session are among the dozens of former legislators who will not return in 2023. The two majority leaders and two appropriations chairmen — generally seen as the state's most influential lawmakers — will all be new on the job next year.
Former longtime Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican, resigned in June following a Forum report that revealed he exchanged text messages with a jailed man accused of child pornography crimes.
Former longtime House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer lost his bid for reelection during the June primary.
Vigesaa, a retired car salesman, has served in the House for two decades and formerly occupied the assistant majority leader's seat. The legislator defined himself as a fiscal conservative and said he wants budgets to benefit the whole state — not just his constituency.
North Dakota will have extra public money to allocate next year due to high oil prices and solid tax collections, and it would be prudent to invest in one-time infrastructure projects "to get them off the books," Vigesaa said. Those projects could include upgrades on university buildings, bridges and rural roads, he said.
Bekkedahl, a dentist and retired member of the North Dakota National Guard, was first elected to the Senate in 2014 and has served as Williston's finance commissioner for more than 25 years. Bekkedahl said he's not a micro-manager, and he wants to empower other budget writers to make decisions.
Legislators should put credence in the budget proposal Republican Gov. Doug Burgum will unveil later this week, Bekkedahl said. The governor's staff and state agencies "do a lot of good work" to craft budget proposals, he noted. Bekkedahl concurred with Vigesaa that lawmakers funding infrastructure projects would position the state for economic growth.
As high inflation persists, raising pay for state employees will be a major topic of discussion during the session, Vigesaa and Bekkedahl agreed.
Last session, appropriators approved a record $16.9 billion two-year budget that included federal money and coronavirus aid. That budget later grew as lawmakers divvied up additional federal aid.
The Legislature will begin its biennial session on Tuesday, Jan. 3.