Weather Forecast


Silbernagel: Session historic in many ways

The historic 63rd North Dakota Legislative Session has come to an end and the unprecedented session was historic in many ways. In addition to the length of the 80 day session, there is a litany of reasons separating and uniquely defining this session. It included record tax relief, record spending levels and reform of education funding, record statewide infrastructure spending, record spending for human services, and protection and safety of life for the unborn, young and old. Nearly 850 pieces of legislation were considered.

North Dakota residents will realize significant tax reductions in the next biennium as a result of the actions by the 2013 Assembly. More than $850 million in property tax relief along with $200 million in individual income tax relief and $50 million in corporate income tax relief make up the biggest pieces of the tax reduction bills. Since 2009 North Dakotans will realize a 42 percent reduction in their income taxes. There was some progress made in the area of property tax reform, primarily related to transparency in reporting and notification. I believe that this is the start of property tax reform and future sessions will see further tax reform.

Education of both K-12 and Higher Education also saw record spending and significant reform as well. The legislature approved the Governor's proposed k-12 funding formula and an increase of nearly $500 million more than the 2011-2013 funding. The legislature also addressed rapidly growing enrollment schools by providing an additional $13.6 million for those schools experiencing record enrollments. Education transportation was also increased more than 10 percent to meet the growing transportation needs across the state. The legislature also agreed to the Governor's funding model for Higher Ed, and even though funding levels were below the Governor's request, virtually all areas of Higher Ed will realize significant spending increases. Nearly $180 million will be spent on capital improvement projects in the next biennium across the state's colleges and universities.

Regarding infrastructure improvements, the amounts that were approved truly were historic for North Dakota. Nearly $2.3 billion in funding to rebuild state, county and township roads and $1.2 billion has been allocated to address the impact of the energy industry across the state. Some of the areas focused on were airports, fire protection, emergency medical services, judicial needs, police protection to name just a few. Much of the spending will be targeted in the hub cities of Williston, Minot and Dickinson. Additionally, flood control and water supply funding for the next biennium will include over $515 million for water projects such as WAWS, Minot, Fargo, Valley City, and other communities flood protection, and general water management projects such as dam safety and repairs.

The Health and Human Services arena also saw significant expansion of the budget and services rendered. The total budget allocation for the next biennium approaches $3 billion dollars. This is an increase of nearly $100 million over the last biennium. Virtually every state program was enhanced or expanded. Perhaps the most noteworthy were the Medicaid Expansion bill and the Autism Bill. The autism bill funds a database, training, education and a pilot voucher program to expand benefits. There were significant funding increases for home and community-based care services for seniors. Also, transitional living and long-term care programs were improved. Nursing home staff and other care providers will realize wage increases totaling over $120 million.

The safety and protection of life regardless of age was also a focus of the 63rd Assembly. The passage of several bills protecting the unborn and related Constitutional Ballot Measure bill, were key outcomes of this effort. Child care facilities will have $2.6 million available to expand or purchase equipment. Child care service payment eligibility was expanded. Another $4.1 million was provided for training, technical assistance and capacity building for child care providers; and $700,000 was made available to support providers of children with special needs and as mentioned earlier, the autism initiative. Safety of all ages was enhanced through numerous measures providing additional highway patrol troopers, 19 additional positions in the states' judiciary, 17 new positions in the Attorney General's office including criminal investigators, forensic scientists and criminal intelligence analysts, $14.5 million to enhance fire protection across the state, to name a few.

Historic legislation occurred in virtually all areas too numerous to mention. A few more that I must include are: the animal cruelty bill, DUI penalties, revamping of traffic violation fees, oil production/extraction tax reform, establishing the Heritage Fund, revamping hunting/fishing fees and responsible energy development legislation.

I could go on, but I think you can see that the 63rd Legislative Session set itself apart from other sessions in many different ways. I was thankful to have played a part in the process. Again, I wish to thank voters in District 22 for the opportunity to do so.

Rep. Peter Silbernagel represents District 22.