We are nearing the half-way point in the 2013 Legislative Session. March 1 is the crossover date for bills and it appears that the House and Senate are on track to meet this deadline. Crossover is followed by a two-day recess which occurs on March 4-5.
District 22 held a Public Forum in Casselton on February 16 and I would like to thank those who attended this session. It was a great opportunity to share some of the information on bills that are circulating the Capitol, answer questions and learn from voters their concerns. Another public forum is scheduled for Casselton on March 16 at 10 a.m. at the Casselton City Hall. Additionally, a public forum is scheduled for West Fargo on March 9 at 10 a.m. in the West Fargo City Commission Room.
With approximately 900 bills and resolutions in the hopper there are many topics for conversation. Perhaps one of the key topics is how to reduce property taxes for the residents of North Dakota. Legislators know that voters are expecting meaningful tax reductions in light of the state’s revenue surplus. There are numerous bills being considered to address this need while balancing the concerns of potential state revenue declines in the future. Legislators are also very much aware that any property tax reduction approved by the Legislature could be offset by increases in property taxes at the local level. Other proposals being considered are bills cutting state sales tax and income tax. The final outcome of this debate will not be determined until the last few days of the session. Total tax relief for this session could range between 750 million dollars and one billion dollars.
Another key debate that is ongoing is that of Medicaid Expansion. Medicaid Expansion would add approximately 20,000 North Dakota residents to those qualifying for Medicaid. In the short term the financial consequence to North Dakota would be approximately $300,000 for the 2013-15 biennium. However, it would escalate to $9 million dollars during the next biennium.
The Medicaid Expansion is a complicated and not easily understood issue when coupled with the federal Affordable Care Act. At the federal level the cost of expanding Medicaid in North Dakota would reach $100 million dollars over a biennium. Again, with the fiscal landscape in Washington one must ask if this program is sustainable over the long haul.
A significant piece of time and energy is being spent on addressing the needs of the “Bakken” counties. Measures have been introduced and passed to significantly increase the over-site of energy companies in the oil and gas industry. This includes drilling regulations, water usage, sighting of collection lines, and a clean-up fund. This clean-up fund would be fully funded when it reached $75 million dollars. Further bills address the housing, healthcare, roads, medical and safety needs of this burgeoning area. Significant dollars are being allocated to this region of our state. In addition to the $2.7 billion dollars being invested in roads, bridges and other transportation projects, hundreds of millions of dollars of impact grants are being allocated for law enforcement, healthcare and water projects.
Additionally, there are numerous bills to address the water projects throughout the state. In addition to the western rural water systems funding bills there are bills being considered for making water available to the Red River Valley, flood control in Minot and Fargo, flood relief in Minot and several water quality bills. As usual water issues are a dominant piece of the Energy and Natural Resource committee’s efforts.
Again, just a reminder to those of you interested in following the 2013 Legislative Session you can follow all general sessions on the North Dakota State Government website (www.legis.nd.gov). There is live-stream video as well as a video library of all of the House and Senate general session.