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Lawmakers prioritizing uses for federal coronavirus funding

October 12, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Budget writers in the North Dakota Legislature began mulling proposals Tuesday on how to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid the state received this year.

House and Senate appropriations committees met separately in all-day meetings at the Capitol, listening to pitches from fellow lawmakers and others on a wish list that totaled $9.2 billion — significantly more than the $1.1 billion in federal coronavirus funds transferred to the state-owned Bank of North Dakota in June.

The meetings, attended heavily by lobbyists, were the first in a series being held this month to prioritize projects ahead of a Nov. 8 special session, when the full GOP-led Legislature will debate the proposals.

The $1.1 billion in federal coronavirus funds represents the single-largest deposit into state coffers in history. The money currently is parked in short-term CDs, earning less than 1% interest.

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

In the most recent round of federal funding, the Legislature already has designated all but about $700 million of the money on construction and other infrastructure projects.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg and his counterpart in the House, Jeff Delzer, said priority for the rest of the funding will be given to water, sewer and infrastructure projects, for which there is an immediate need, and those that won’t require a commitment of funds from taxpayers in the future.

The funds must be assigned by the end of 2024 and spent by the end of 2026, under federal rules.

GOP Gov. Doug Burgum last month recommended legislators quickly spend the money on infrastructure, economic development and other projects to avoid inflation and rising construction costs.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner and his House majority counterpart, Chet Pollert, said some of Burgum’s priorities would likely be inserted in the Legislature’s final spending package, including spending $100 million for natural gas infrastructure in the state’s oil patch, and funding for state-run workforce development program.