ND Legislature passes bill to deal with $300 million budget shortfall during special session

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BISMARCK, N.D. - All week, we've told you how Governor Jack Dalrymple and the legislature planned to deal with a more than $300 million budget shortfall. Now, the special session is over.

All week, Republican lawmakers kept repeating one word: focus. They wanted to have a focused session, dealing with only one bill without any changes. The majority achieved their goal.

Three days is the shortest time allowed in the state's constitution for a bill to be passed, and that's exactly how long it took to pass the budget bill.

Some in the minority, however, are dissatisfied because the bill is the same at the end of the process as it was at the start.

"We've done our constitutional duty but we haven't stood up and done our jobs. We've been going along to get along. Now we're going to go home and pat ourselves on the back and say that we balanced the budget but who have we helped along the way?" says Rep. Kylie Overson, D-Grand Forks.

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, Doug Burgum and Marvin Nelson respectively, were in the House Chamber for the debate. Nelson says he's particularly concerned with rural health care providers having to shut down.

"You know, we're saying 'tighten their belt,' but we took their pants away. I mean, they don't have a way to stay open. It's just a question about how long they can stay open and operate at a loss before they go," says Nelson.

"Every one of us, especially in my age group, have had parents in nursing homes. God bless those people. They're saints, what they do. We're not throwing anybody under the bus here. We're trying our best to balance the budget," says Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo.

Dalrymple signed the bill shortly after the session ended.

To recap:

The bill uses Bank of North Dakota profits, the state's rainy day fund and a 2 1/2 percent allotment to cover a $300 million shortfall.

The Department of Human Services was not cut and the Department of Corrections will only take a one percent hit.

Dalrymple said in a statement:

“This bill accomplishes what needed to be done by taking us to the end of the biennium with a balanced budget. We have some hard work ahead of us, but we are now on course to develop a sound budget plan for the 2017-2019 biennium.”

Burgum said in a statement:

“Today our state legislature took an important step that I am hopeful will ensure a balanced budget for the remainder of this biennium. When the legislature returns in January, additional challenges will need to be faced to ensure we fund our priorities while right sizing government. In the near term, the 2017-19 budget constraints will represent an opportunity to create innovative new solutions to old problems. Working together we can prioritize results and hold the line on how much we are spending. Looking long-term, we must foster innovation and entrepreneurship to grow and diversify our economy, deliver transparency and accountability within government, and treat taxpayers like the customers they are.”

Libertarian candidate for governor Martin Riske said in a statement:

"It is with little surprise that the North Dakota legislature’s special session produced no real reforms. While many hoped the session would do more than was absolutely necessary, it is not shocking that Republicans themselves have used the phrase 'This is a budget to squeak by'. Our state deserves more than just the absolute minimum from our elected officials.​"