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Our view: Burgum’s ideas could be a good start for workforce development in North Dakota

When the North Dakota Legislature convenes on Jan. 3, Gov. Doug Burgum hopes lawmakers dedicate themselves to developing, expanding and generally massaging the state’s workforce.

Herald pull quote, 12/21, 22
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When the North Dakota Legislature convenes on Jan. 3, Gov. Doug Burgum hopes lawmakers dedicate themselves to developing, expanding and generally massaging the state’s workforce.

Amen to that, governor.

Burgum’s plan, as reported previously by Forum News Service, is to push approximately $50 million in state funds to various development programs, including:

● Nearly $25 million for a marketing and recruitment campaign that aims to attract workers from other states.

● $20 million for a grant program that local governments, economic development groups and other workforce entities could draw on to address regional labor demands.

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● A $5 million expansion of the state’s automation tax credit, which is meant to help businesses buy or lease equipment to automate manufacturing.

And here’s another possible workforce development idea from the governor: Ditch the state’s income tax – at least for most North Dakotans. The plan is to eliminate it outright for “three out of five North Dakota taxpayers,” according to a statement from his office. Those who will still pay income tax will see it reduced by 25% to 50%.

On the surface, it mostly appears to be an effort to give financial relief to those who already live in the state.

“With inflation putting pressure on household budgets, this proposal will support working families – those who own their homes and those who do not yet but aspire to home ownership,” Burgum said when he presented his proposed budget on Dec. 7.

Importantly, it also is a potential tool to lure new workers to North Dakota. And he believes axing the income tax will pay big dividends on other lines of the state ledger book.

“There are now eight states that have no income tax. Three of those states, interestingly, are Alaska, Texas and Wyoming – three energy states that have oil revenues. We are competing directly against them for oil workers,” Burgum told the Grand Forks Herald earlier this month.

The governor said that at present, oil companies want to drill and they have the money to do so.

“You’re looking at $175 million a year in capital to run a drilling operation,” Burgum said.

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But can those companies get enough workers in North Dakota to complete the work? Not necessarily, he said. Instead, the companies are investing where they can find workers. Too often, that means Wyoming, Texas and Alaska.

Meanwhile, North Dakota is losing dollars because of a 10% tax on oil revenue here. Boosting oil production would, of course, boost that tax collection. The governor believes the corresponding increase in revenue would pay for other programs – things like child care aid and workforce development initiatives.

“I joke that I shouldn’t be here doing these (media) tours but instead should be out trying to hire oil field workers because that would pay for all the proposals we have,” Burgum said. “We have to find a way to get competitive on the tax front.”

Burgum’s proposals seem logical, sound and necessary if we’re to truly make a dent in workforce development. We’ll be interested to see if lawmakers feel the same when they gather in January.

No matter what happens in the upcoming session, it’s time for the state to get serious about the region’s labor crisis. These ideas are a good start.

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