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Legislative Report District 22: Final pieces of puzzle being put in place

By Sen. Gary A. Lee

Two weeks, from the time the last bill gets out of committee is an often used rule of thumb until the Legislative session ends. Senate Appropriations has sent out its bills, conference committees are working and sending reports back for final approval. The corner pieces to the massive jigsaw puzzle being worked on by the North Dakota Legislature are finally being put in place.

But there remains areas of disagreement. The public employee’s salary and benefit package continues to be a sticking point between the Senate and House. The Senate agrees with the governor in offering a four percent increase each year of the biennium. Three percent each year is where the House is entrenched. Agency budgets cannot be finalized until salary levels are determined. Leadership from the two chambers needs to agree on a package very soon, that will be acceptable to their members.

A state in the position of offering tax reductions is the envy of the country. But the decisions of where and how much those reductions should be, while maintaining the ability to fund the state’s critical needs, seem to be more than a couple of weeks away. Property, income, and corporate tax reductions are still on the table. The state taking over the cost of some county social service responsibilities is also being discussed as a part of the package to reduce local property tax.

The “oil patch” legislators are rightfully concerned about adequate funding for the significant needs  and growth created by the oil activity in that part of the state. Tax reductions can mean fewer dollars to cover major expenditures. Finding the critical balance is certainly the aim of the Legislature.

The final puzzle pieces will be found and placed before the 80th Legislative day, just as they have in the previous sixty-two Legislative Sessions.

It continues to be a privilege serving the people of District 22 in the North Dakota Senate. Thank you for the opportunity.