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 The grand proposal has been withdrawn and will be replaced with a much smaller offer.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.

Latest posts by Tyler Axness (see all)