Legislature May Debate Two Budgets Next Session

Last week we informed readers that legislative leadership seemingly rejected Governor Dalrymple’s final budget before leaving office later this week. Legislators can go ahead and say they “delayed” action on Dalrymple’s budget all they want. This language is likely to save face. I’m told members of the Dalrymple cabinet immediately went to the Attorney General’s office for an opinion on the move. “All clear,” they were told by Stenehjem’s office. The bottom line is Carlson had his changes crafted carefully enough to avoid unconstitutionality.  This move to “delay” and implement their own wishes was premeditated.

So where does this leave things going into session next month? Well, this move has caused more work sprinkled with a little confusion for our state agencies. It appears there will be two budget bills for each agency the Legislature will need to take up. One of the budgets introduced will be from Legislative Council to fulfill the motion of Rep. Al Carlson to go off of the revised budgets from the last biennium.  The other budget bill will be introduced by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). These will be the budgets recommended by outgoing Governor Dalrymple. It is my understanding that the Legislative Council budget bills will be introduced before the Governor’s proposals.

That is just the beginning of it. The question then becomes, what if incoming Governor Doug Burgum has his own changes? The old way of transitioning administrations was pretty straight forward. New Governor wanted to change something from the old Governor’s budget proposal, offer an amendment to that budget bill. But with two different starting points, at what point can Burgum offer his amendments to these agency budgets? What bills will his amendments be on, the Dalrymple bill or the Carlson bill? Will he simply offer a separate bill with the budget makeup he’d like?

Couple that with over thirty new legislators joining the assembly and it is ripe for confusion and sleight of hand. That is not meant to be a cheap shot at incoming legislators. The fact is, many of the freshmen members will be relying on their leadership for guidance especially in areas like the budget. If that is the case, it seems like the legislative leadership stacked the deck in their favor against the Governor’s office and his administration. Remember, in ND every bill introduced has a hearing, committee discussion, and is voted on by the entire body the bill originated in. This allows legislative leadership to put even more pressure on their members to follow along with their plan.

The 65th legislative session will have a minimum of two budgets per state agency. There will be hundreds of other bills introduced by other legislators. Each will be heard, debated, and voted on. Unless leadership holds a tight leash, it will be grueling days to try and cram it all in the 80-day limit.

Tyler Axness
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