Legislators Continue to Shelter Themselves from Budget Shortfall Sacrifices

This morning we learned from Senator Tim Mathern the Legislature has decided against Governor Burgum’s recommendation of requiring state employees to pay 5% of their health insurance premium. Though things can change before the end of the session, I doubt the insurance changes will become law. Why? Because it is the Legislature’s insurance benefit also. I wrote about this on January 18th. Instead of the insurance premium, state employees will not see a pay raise over the next two years.

It turns out legislators continue to find ways to mitigate the negative impacts of our state’s budget shortfall on themselves. Shortly after I interviewed Sen. Mathern on KFGO, SB 2323 was heard in the Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee. The bill would not allow travel reimbursements and pay to legislators for conferences outside of the routine legislative work for the 2017-2019 biennium. After the two years, and hopefully a rebound in the state’s budget, it’d be back to business as usual. To me, it seemed like a small sacrifice for legislators themselves compared to the large cuts they’re making that impact everyone else across the state. The hearing was at 9:45. By 10:30 the committee recommended a Do Not Pass on a party line vote.

How much would this save you, the taxpayers, over two years? $826,127 according to the fiscal note. That is a real chunk of change used solely by the legislature. Imagine what services could be spared if the legislature put a little skin in the game? This could fund services for children with disabilities. Unfortunately, those kids will need to wait because there may be a conference in Florida and legislators would hate to miss that.

According to friends I have in the national organizations who host these conferences, a travel ban on legislators is nothing new or out of the ordinary. In fact, according to one friend, there were a lot of states that had such a ban from 2008-2010. Remember that is when a lot of states were dealing with budget shortfalls due to the recession.

“Everything is on the table to balance the budget.” we’ve been told. I guess everything except those budget savings that come at the expense of legislative luxury. Next time you see your legislator ask them what sacrifices they are putting on the table to balance the budget. The fact is they keep finding ways to shelter themselves from budget balancing burdens while seeking deeper cuts elsewhere, and that should outrage you.

Tyler Axness
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