North Dakota Senate Report
The longest legislative session in history is behind us and the citizen legislators who worked hard on the state’s budget and policy issues for four months have returned home to their regular lives and have to actually live with the laws they passed.
In my first column of the session I said it would be a session of unprecedented revenues and unprecedented spending. It was that and more. Due to our prosperity we had to again use more of the state’s money for roads, education and human services because of the decrease in Federal matching funds.
Perhaps one of the greatest stands the legislature took was to strengthen the state’s policy of protecting maternal health and unborn human life. All of the big dollar numbers that I will share later in this article mean absolutely nothing if we do not recognize the inalienable right to life of the unborn, and then do what we can to support that life from conception to the end of life in senior years. The legislature is placing a Human Life Amendment on the ballot so that North Dakota citizens will vote on adding language to the state Constitution affirming the right to life of every human being at any stage of development. Unborn children will no longer be aborted based on gender selection or physical abnormalities, and the unborn life will be protected from the time a heartbeat is detected. These laws will more than likely be challenged in court, but it is a fight worth having.
The Legislature appropriated $2.3 billion to rebuild and repair state highways, county and township roads, bypass routes and other infrastructure upgrades in every region of the state. The funding includes $1.64 billion for highway improvement projects throughout the state, $617 million to repair and rebuild county and township roads and statewide grants of $15.5 million for airports.
The funding for counties and townships is nearly three times the amount that they would normally receive. Hopefully much needed projects can be completed without having to raise local taxes, and maybe even reduce mills in some cases.
This sessions’ tax relief package is made up of a.) More than $850 million in property tax relief, including $656 million provided through a new K-12 school funding formula that shifts the largest share of education costs from school districts to the state. b.) $200 million in property tax will be provided through a state-paid tax credit. This latter bill should reduce property taxes by about 12 percent and will be more easily recognized as tax relief than the method of running it through the school formula. The buy down of the school mills should amount to about a 40 percent property tax reduction, but with the increase in valuations and the flexibility granted to schools, I don’t think the full amount will be as easily recognized. c.) There will be $200 million in individual income tax relief across all tax brackets. Combined with tax relief provided since 2009, North Dakotans will realize a 42% reduction in their income tax. d.) Homestead tax credit for seniors on fixed incomes was increased from $8.8 million to $20 million. The legislature raised the maximum income limit and the maximum asset limit, including the value of the taxpayers’ home.
The new formula is the most significant reform in K-12 funding in the history of the state. The Legislature approved $1.7 billion to fund schools and reduce the local cost for school funding. The appropriation represents an increase of $477 million compared to last sessions’ funding. As a side note the increase this year is greater than the whole budget was for K-12 in the 2001 session. The new formula will result in most school districts needing to levy no more than about 70 mills to cover the local share of school funding. As long as our economy keeps on the current path this should be sustainable, but we will need to keep a close eye on it in future sessions.
To keep this report from getting too long, I will address the areas of Higher Education Human Services, Law Enforcement and DUI legislation in a future report.
Safe planting and fence fixing, and may it rain soon.