District 22 Legislative Report: Plenty of work to do after full week of bill hearing
Legislative committees had a full week of bill hearing. This session, the House of Representatives has about 100 bills less than last session, and the senate has 70 less bills.
This hopefully will result in the legislature using less than the 80 days allowed.
The House Finance and Tax Committee, which I chair has 67 bills; the largest number of bills I have ever seen before the committee. There are numerous income tax reductions for various groups, from retired military and social security recipients, to college student with loans. From my perspective, I oppose these special group tax breaks, and believe a reduction in general taxes is more equitable.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the weekend conference of the State Rural Agricultural Leaders, a national organization of which I serve as treasurer. The overall theme of the conference was how American agriculture and, particularly, animal agriculture is under attack from the Environmental Protection Agency, Humane Society, and Earth First, to name a few.
North Dakota is feeling these attacks firsthand with court decisions that stopped the use of Roundup-Ready alfalfa and sugar beets. The good news is the alfalfa restraint has been lifted and, hopefully, the sugar beet restrain will get lifted before spring. But that may be difficult to get done.
Several bills and resolutions have been introduced this session to attempt to give the state legal status against action taken by the EPA. Such legislation has been introduced by many states during the past several years because of the growing federal regulations that have infringed on state rights. We also are concerned about regulations the EPA may impose on our oil and coal industry.
The status of the state retirement system for public employees and teachers is an important issue before the legislature. The proposals to change from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program are being considered.
The defined benefit program guarantees the amount of retirement benefits. The current proposals would not affect current employees, but would only apply to new employees. Many companies, as well as city- and state-defined benefit programs, have become insolvent and, consequently, decisions are going to have to be made to resolve the financial problems that have been encountered.
North Dakota retirement programs are not in a crises situation, but they are at a point where adjustments should be made to keep them financially sound. Just putting more taxpayer dollars into the system does not seem like a prudent decision.
Changes to retirement programs are very controversial, just as the social security issue is at the federal level. Everyone knows there is a problem, but it is difficult to find a political solution.
We will be holding a legislative reporting session from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Feb. 19, at the library of the Casselton Elementary School. There was a good turnout at the West Fargo legislative forum Jan. 29, and we appreciated hearing the concerns from citizens who attended.