Governor Doug Burgum has rejected calls for a special legislative session. Dem-NPL legislators made the call for a special session during a press conference on June 17th. Their stated goal was to get more people involved with the $1.25 billion of federal money from the CARES Act and bond for infrastructure. Though people point to Burgum’s rejection, they should really focus on the dereliction of duty from legislative leadership.
Burgum chairs the Emergency Commission. The Commission is made up of six individuals. Right now, they are deciding where the $1.25 billion is to be spent. $400 million was approved by those six on June 18th, a day after the call for a special session. A final stamp of approval is placed by the Budget Section, a group of legislators that receive budget updates while the full legislature is out of session.
In other words, six people have been tasked with handing out money equal to about 1/4 of the state’s budget without hearings and public input. The Budget Section smiles and goes along with what was already decided by the Commission. Does that seem right to you? Of course the Governor would reject the call for more legislative involvement. Why would Burgum willingly give that power up and hand it to the Legislature? He gets a huge say in where the money does and does not go in an election year.
More perplexing, why would legislators willingly give that much power to a Governor? Are they lazy or afraid? After all, it was one week ago they watched the Governor defeat one of their own budget workers at the ballot box. Perhaps they’re afraid they’d be next during the November election.
Before the angry Facebook comments come in accusing me of being a partisan, remind yourself that it is Republicans who hold a super-majority. To me, this isn’t about D vs. R, it is about separation of powers and good government.
If you’ve followed NDx over the three years I’ve been publishing, you know I’ve been tough on former House Majority Leader Al Carlson. His approach to leadership was terrible. He was a vindictive bully. But at least he stood up for the Legislature against Governors in his own party. Equal branches of government. That appears to be missing right now.
But the Budget Section! That is what my NDGOP friends like to point out. Fourteen districts aren’t represented. Districts 3, 4, 6, 13, 16, 19, 21, 25, 26, 34, 41, 42, 43, 46. Those that are on the budget section essentially get to say yes or no to what is before them. In other words, “yes men” for the Governor. I can say that because there are only five women on the committee. Elect more women! If you’re reading this and you’re from one of those districts not represented, time to ask your representative and senator what they’re afraid of.
We focus on the CARES Act because of the pandemic and the feds gave us over a billion dollars. Let’s not forget about the other promises made by the 2019 Legislature and the impacts of coronavirus. Oil and gas, sales, income, and property taxes were all impacted. It is time to reevaluate formulas set on wrong numbers and keep promises.
Lawmakers promised money to local governments for infrastructure investments. You’ve heard of the “Prairie Dog” initiative. Politicians sent press releases, stood in front of cameras, and called into talk shows to make sure you knew about their accomplishment. The problem is, that money is not there and with their dereliction of duty, they don’t intend to make up for it before other budgets are established. Lawmakers will tell school boards, city councils, county commissions, and townships they’ll take care of it next session. The promise. Don’t buy it.
This boils down to one of two things. Either legislative leadership in the Republican Party is afraid of Doug Burgum or they’re afraid the need for a special session is viewed as failed leadership on their part. I’ll give them an out. We’re in a pandemic. Nobody in North Dakota could have known and budgeted for this. Is it worth giving up their authority in the long run?