With limited input from the public and those elected to represent them on spending issues, questionable decisions were allowed with the CARES Act money. North Dakota received $1.25 billion from the federal government and was tasked with spending it before the end of the year. We deserved better public input. That was rejected. Now we must demand greater oversight.

Attempts to expand public input on how the $1.25 billion was spent were rejected. Democratic-NPL legislators made the request and received bipartisan support from some Republican colleagues. Though the formal rejection came from Governor Doug Burgum, we can look at the failure of other legislators who refused to deal themselves a hand in appropriating money. Has there been a time when the ND legislature willing gave up their authority to appropriate this dollar amount?

Recently, $221 million of the CARES money needed to be reallocated. That spending decision – made by 6 people – was off the first time. Submit that as evidence greater input from more people was necessary in the first place. The same 6 people decided how to spend that money elsewhere which again led to questionable decisions. For example, $16 million more dollars were given to oil companies instead of shoring up resources for volunteer first responders in rural ND where the pandemic is worsening.

The decision has been rubber-stamped. Too many legislators sit silent. Now, where is the oversight? Other states have had watchful eyes on these decisions. In Iowa for example, an audit found some of the CARES money was spent inappropriately in their state. Their government used it to pay for a new accounting system. An accounting of how our money was spent, when, how, where, and what is left over is warranted. With the current Legislature, I have little faith this will be taken up. They proved they aren’t up to the task. The next state auditor should consider diving into the numbers and the spending.

Here is the bottom line, this pandemic showed our current setup in state government needs to be retooled. Every-year sessions are necessary to deal with challenges. Promises made in 2019, were broken because of the volatile situation. How many local governments were left with open tabs on construction projects? How many workers forwent a paycheck to help slow the spread? There are a lot of questions that need answers. Legislators need to take ownership of the duties that come with the title. Citizens deserve better and timely representation in such big decisions. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen in 2020. Thus the big decisions made by a handful of people in this pandemic should be looked into.

Tyler Axness