Burgum presents blueprint for spending federal COVID funds

September 30, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Thursday recommended legislators quickly spend most of the $1 billion of federal coronavirus aid the state received this year on infrastructure, economic development and other projects to avoid inflation and rising construction costs.

The second-term Republican governor, in an address at the state Capitol, also recommended using a portion of the state’s better-than-expected ending fund balance of $1.1 billion in the last two-year budget cycle to provide $207 million in income tax relief to residents and $100 million to bolster the state’s troubled pension fund, which is threatened to be exhausted in time if lawmakers do not take action.

Burgum, who dubbed his spending plan “Accelerate ND,” earlier asked state agencies for proposals as a way to set priorities for the federal coronavirus relief money. The proposals totaled nearly $5 billion.

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Legislative leaders said they have been meeting for the past several weeks with the governor and agreed in principle to some of the themes in his spending blueprint. The Legislature, which controls spending on state government, will eventually decide where the money goes.

The Legislature is already set to reconvene Nov. 8 to finish work on legislative redistricting. However, lawmakers have just four days left that they can meet until 2023 under the North Dakota Constitution, leaving them little time to squeeze in anything besides redistricting. The Legislature already met 76 of the 80 days allotted under the constitution every two years.

Burgum could call a special session, though, and that would give lawmakers as much time as they need to address the coronavirus funds.

Burgum declined to say if he would do that.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg, a Republican from Grand Forks, said lawmakers have yet to prioritize how the money would be spent, and would look closely Burgum’s blueprint. However, he does not think all of the federal money needs to be spent as quickly as possible.

“There is something to be said about showing restraint and not spending every penny,” said Holmberg, the longtime chairman of the powerful committee.

A previous appropriation of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid last year already has been spent or earmarked for spending.

The more recent round of money must be assigned by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026, under federal rules.

GOP House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said he believed there is some “commonality” between Burgum’s wishes and the Legislature on how the money should be spent, particularly on infrastructure projects.

But, he said. “legislators are the appropriators and they want input.”