Rep. Chris Griffin hits it just as Rep. Jasper Schnieder did the other day.
As a newcomer to the Legislature and a moderate Democrat, what I have seen going on in the Capitol regarding the state’s budget has been disappointing.
Like most North Dakotans, I believe in fiscal responsibility, a belief that has been absent from this legislative session so far.
It all started with Gov. John Hoeven’s budget which increased spending by nearly 25 percent. While some of the increases were certainly warranted, this level of spending may be difficult to sustain in future.
As the session progressed, the budget was increased by the Republican-controlled House and Senate to a point where it exceeded the governor’s budget by $370 million. While a small portion of this was duplicative spending, it still takes North Dakota’s budget from a large surplus to a significant deficit. This is not fiscal responsibility, it is fiscal irresponsibility.
This fiscal irresponsibility led the House Finance and Tax Committee to amend the governor’s property tax relief bill to exclude out-of-state residents from inclusion in the tax rebate. This was done to reduce the cost of the property tax relief since it was recognized current spending was out of control.
At the outset, this may not sound like such a bad idea, but it is unconstitutional. House Bill 1051 now violates the commerce clause of the Constitution and will exclude commercial property owners from obtaining any relief if challenged. This concern was brought to the attention of the assembly by Rep. Rod Froelich, D-Selfridge, but was ignored by Republicans and passed in its unconstitutional form.
If this were not enough to question the fiscal responsibility of Republicans, they also modified the governor’s prison proposal to call for the building of a new prison at a price tag of $85 million. This was in place of a $42 million cell house replacement that was supported by the governor and the Department of Corrections. I am unable to comprehend why legislative Republicans want to spend an additional $43 million that is totally unnecessary to guarantee public safety or adequate facilities for the prison population. I’m not soft on crime whatsoever, but this seems like wasteful spending to me.
Coming into the session, I looked forward to having a surplus that could be used to increase funding in a fiscally responsible way for the benefit of all the citizens of the state. I thought education funding could be improved in coordination with some meaningful property tax relief. Instead, I have experienced spending that is out of control and a property tax plan that is unconstitutional. Maybe the Republicans do not agree, but I think the voters of North Dakota expect fiscal responsibility. I know they deserve it.
Griffin, D-Larimore, N.D., is in his first term in the N.D. House of Representatives from District 19.