ND governor unveils billion-dollar investment plan; Legislature weighs in

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 5:53 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - On Thursday, Gov. Doug Burgum, R-N.D., unveiled his plan for deploying the more than $1 billion dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

The largest slice goes to workforce development, including $35 million in grants for companies to use to attract talent via sign-on bonuses.

He said this is meant to help bring in out-of-state workers to lessen the worker shortage; $237 million for infrastructure, much of which would go to critical water projects like replacing sewer lines and lead piping. That last slice would go to funding emergency services and other health care needs.

Burgum said this plan is meant to make North Dakota more attractive for new workers.

“We don’t need job creation. We have got jobs, jobs, jobs. What we need is the people who are qualified to fill them. And that’s really across all industries,” said Burgum.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed a series of projects using other federal funds. But they were approved before any guidelines for the spending were unveiled.

Those guidelines came out this week, and it shows many of those projects no longer qualify. So a portion of the one billion dollars would be spent on the now-unfunded projects.

Despite the governor laying out his priorities for the federal funds, the legislature will be responsible for actually building the legislation.

This will be the first time an aid package of this size goes through the new process of allocating emergency spending.

The governor said his proposal is meant to give lawmakers a starting point.

With Budget Stabilization funds at record highs, Gov. Doug Burgum said there’s very little time to wait to invest the COVID cash. However, it’s the people on the other side of the chamber that are writing the checks and determining the timeline.

As the governor laid out his priorities, on the other side of the building, lawmakers were deciding how much to spend and when.

Just one hour before Burgum made his billion-dollar plan public, state lawmakers were setting the stage for the special session for those plans.

Where some want to assign all the money with little haste, some in leadership are hesitant.

“Personally, I would like to hold down so that we have some money available for the next session to deal with whatever the economic situation of the state is at that time. But the end result of how much is going to be spent will be done by (the legislature),” said Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks.

But Burgum doesn’t subscribe to the need to save the money from Washington.

He points to a record-high $749 million Budget Stabilization Fund, $576 million in strategic investments, and $1.12 billion available in the General Fund.

For Burgum, that’s enough to get the American Rescue Plan out of the Bank of North Dakota and into the community.

“You want a .07% return on a checking account, or do you want a 100% instant return on a match program that goes out the door. So, to me, some of these are no-brainer decisions, and it’s a false argument to say that we should be saving for a rainy day because we have and we are,” Burgum said.

North Dakota has until 2024 to assign the last dollar, and until 2026 to actually spend it.

And. for some lawmakers, that could be their plan.

The governor said if his priorities aren’t met within the legislature’s plans, using the veto is a possibility. However, he added that talks are still ongoing he’s still collaborating with legislative leadership.

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