North Dakota received $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding. The money is meant to offset the financial strain brought on by the pandemic. There are a lot of needs and even more arguments on how that money should be distributed across the state. Unfortunately, North Dakota’s process limits input and transparency on how the money will be utilized.
North Dakota’s biennial Legislature creates hurdles in responding to budget crises. That is if you are a proponent of broad input and transparency. To move money around while the Legislature is not in session, the Emergency Commission is utilized. The six-member commission consists of the Governor, Secretary of State, House and Senate Appropriation Chairs, and Majority Leaders.
Should six people – including two from the Executive branch – be deciding how $1.25 BILLION is utilized in the state? Shouldn’t the Legislature want to deal themselves a bigger hand in this process since they hold the “purse strings” of the state budget?
The latest example to raise questions on process involves food access. Last week, a press conference was held with advocates, constituents, and two lawmakers. They presented a plan to utilize $53 million from CARES funding to address food security in ND. When asked by a reporter about the process, one lawmaker said they had to talk to agency directors because it would be up to the Emergency Commission to decide where the funding goes.
Hold on a second. Lawmakers need to convince agency directors to convince the Commission where funding goes? Seems off, right? That’s because the process is backward.
NDx suggested there would be a need for a special legislative session back in March. The need is still there in June. At the very least, legislators should want to reaffirm their role in appropriating dollars instead of relinquishing that authority to Governor Burgum.