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House budget writers cleave North Dakota bonding package

February 12, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this April 26, 2017 file photo, House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, speaks during a House floor session in Bismarck, N.D. Budget writers in the North Dakota House have slashed by almost half a landmark $1.1 billion proposed bonding package aimed largely at financing infrastructure projects across the state. The proposal was being finalized Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, and will be sent to the full House next week for consideration, according to Underwood Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer, who heads the 21-member committee. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP File)
FILE - In this April 26, 2017 file photo, House Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, speaks during a House floor session in Bismarck, N.D. Budget writers in the North Dakota House have slashed by almost half a landmark $1.1 billion proposed bonding package aimed largely at financing infrastructure projects across the state. The proposal was being finalized Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, and will be sent to the full House next week for consideration, according to Underwood Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer, who heads the 21-member committee. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP File)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Budget writers in the North Dakota House have slashed by almost half a landmark $1.1 billion proposed bonding package aimed largely at financing infrastructure projects across the state.

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee has endorsed the $680 million package that relies on earnings from the state’s voter-approved oil tax savings account to pay for the borrowed money. The proposal was being finalized Friday and will be sent the full House next week for consideration, according to Underwood Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer, who heads the 21-member committee.

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Delzer, perhaps the most fiscally conservative lawmaker in the legislature, is opposed to the package because he doesn’t “believe in bonding” that puts taxpayers on the hook for decades.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner unveiled the original proposal last month at a news conference that was attended by a swarm of lobbyists. The proposal was not publicly debated and was pulled after grumbling among some lawmakers in both chambers who believed it was attached to too many unnecessary extras, referred to as “Christmas tree” items.

The House resurrected the proposal in a bill that now allots three-quarters of the amended funding for flood-control projects: $435.5 million in Fargo and $74.5 million for the Minot area. The bill also includes $70 million for highway and bridge infrastructure and $50 million for an agriculture development center at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Lawmakers say the aim is to pay off the bonds in 20 years or less using earnings from the state’s oil tax savings account, known as the Legacy Fund, which voters enacted in 2010. The fund contains about $8 billion and is expected to earn about $500 million in the next two-year budget cycle.

The House proposal signals sure death to Gov. Doug Burgum’s own $1.25 billion bonding proposal, and the Democrats’ $2 billion suggestion that was never taken seriously in the GOP-led Legislature.

Delzer has said Burgum’s proposal would be given fair consideration. Burgum disliked Delzer’s treatments of his past budgets so much that he successfully funded a primary challenger to him last year who died before he was sworn in. Delzer was appointed to replace him. And Delzer’s fellow GOP lawmakers picked him to remain the head of the powerful budget-writing committee.

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House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said the proposal is far from a “slam-dunk,” even though most of the budget writers in the chamber support it.

“There are folks who don’t like bonding and I used to be one of them,” Pollert said. “Not anymore.”

With the state in a fiscal crunch with declining oil revenue, Pollert and others have looked to bonding to finance infrastructure projects without having to use other revenue sources or increase taxes.

Wardner said if the bill makes it to the Senate, lawmakers there would look at restoring funding for new career and tech centers, and more dollars for township road construction.