As word broke the ND Legislature would be withdrawing a long-overdue bonding bill and replacing it with a scaled-down version, two things came to mind. First, the red flag that our budget situation must be worse than lawmakers anticipated. Second, nearly all of the deal-making about public policy in this bonding bill is being done in the shadows away from the public.

Let’s take a step back. Weeks ago, legislative leaders were taking part in conference calls and reassuring stakeholders there would be a robust bonding bill this session. To paraphrase my conversation with one of the participants, the deal was done. Set at $1 billion. Everyone was going to get a piece of the pie. Obviously, there must have been a lot of work negotiated amongst a handful of legislators.

A little over two weeks into the legislative session, whatever backroom deal was made is already being walked back. The grand proposal has been withdrawn and will be replaced with a much smaller offer. It is likely no coincidence this walk back comes one week after a revenue forecast predicted, “rough sailing” for the state’s budget for the months ahead.

We can collectively debate the best price tag for a bonding bill. For example, what is the sweet spot with low-interest rates currently available and the robust legacy fund at nearly $8 billion? What makes one infrastructure project more appetizing than another to qualify? These are some basic, non-partisan questions. But we can’t have that discussion if those who make the decisions continue to broker deals behind closed doors and keep the public in the dark.

Tyler Axness