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North Dakota lawmakers turn attention to January session

Just a day after North Dakota lawmakers adjourned from a special session to address the state's budget shortfall Thursday, attention turned to the Legislature's return to Bismarck in early 2017.

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Rep. Al Carlson (R-Fargo) said legislators looked at both sides of the funding issue and that SB 2379 was the best way forward for the next five months until the 2017 legislature convenes. Rep. Carlson is the House majority leader. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

Just a day after North Dakota lawmakers adjourned from a special session to address the state's budget shortfall Thursday, attention turned to the Legislature's return to Bismarck in early 2017.

The bill that came out of this week's special session recognizes two budget cuts ordered this year by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, uses the remaining $75 million from the state's rainy-day fund and spends up to $100 million in profits from the state-owned Bank of North Dakota.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said lawmakers will have to come up with almost $1.6 billion when they convene again in January for their regular session.

That figure takes into account more than $4.7 billion in ongoing spending commitments, $616 million in spending mandates, and a general fund revenue projection of more than $3.7 billion.

Holmberg said the next session may be "tough and easy."

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"Because I was there when we had no money in the 1980s," he said. "And the answer was accepted, I think, by most that as long as you're treating people fairly and everyone takes the hit, (people are) much more accepting."

Holmberg added state revenues increased rapidly after 2011.

"If you drew a straight line, (it) would be a logical conclusion you could make back in 2009 that this is where it's going to go," he said. "(State agencies) should be able to provide the levels of service in many areas that they provided before the huge boom the last biennia."

Holmberg pointed to projected increases in sales and income tax revenue, interest from the Legacy Fund and money from the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund as potential revenue sources.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said it would be prudent to "go into next session looking at the budget very conservatively." He said lawmakers need to be more strategic in how they craft the state budget, pointing to federal matching dollars the state missed out on.

"Maintaining those and cutting in other places, especially one-time spending, I think that's what we're going to need to take a look at," Schneider said.

Lawmakers are looking at a proposal to allow the Legislature to "more nimbly" respond to downturns in revenue between legislative sessions, Schneider said.

"A lot of the budget mechanisms we have in place, they're a product of a time before I was even born," he said.

Related Topics: RAY HOLMBERG
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