Today during floor debate on the Department of Commerce budget, House Majority Leader Al Carlson (R – District 41) acknowledged how difficult it has been to make budget cuts. According to Carlson, all departments will have 15-20% cuts, with two exceptions… K-12 education and Health & Human Services (HHS).
K-12 and HHS have become the sacred cows of the North Dakota budget. It’s almost as if they’re beyond reproach. Those who speak of cutting them are classified in the same categories as those who kill puppies and hate babies. If you’re a politician, it’s viewed as heartless to suggest minor cuts and its thought political suicide to suggest significant ones.
As a result of how these sacred cows are viewed, their budgets are two of the three largest in the total North Dakota Legislative Appropriations. K-12 made up 17.9% ($2.54 billion) of the 2015-2017 budget and HHS made up 27.4% ($3.89 billion).
As I mentioned earlier, Rep. Carlson’s comments came during debate on the Department of Commerce budget. And in an article I wrote earlier today, I mentioned that the current amended budget for the Department of Commerce sits at about the same level as the 2007-2009 biennium.
For a comparison, let’s see how the K-12 and HHS 2007-2009 budgets stack up in comparison to the 2015-2017 budget. K-12 made up 16.9% ($1.09 billion) of the 2007-2009 budget and HHS made up 33.3% ($2.15 billion).
This means that while K-12 has stayed at roughly the same percentage of the budget, the amount of dollars spent has increased by over 130%. While HHS has actually decreased as a percentage of the budget, the number of dollars spent there has increased by 80%.
As a matter of context, it is only fair to consider the increase in K-12 enrollment and population as well. K-12 enrollment increased by 13% from 2009-2015. And from 2007-2014 the population of North Dakota increased by just 13.2%.
To most, numbers can be boring, but these statistics are important. To me, they show an unnecessary growth of government. I suppose you can go ahead and unfairly throw me into the same categories as those who kill puppies and hate babies, but I don’t believe K-12 and HHS should be off limits to budget cuts. It’s time to look at cutting some fat off the sacred cows.
1. 2007-2009 Budget:
2. 2015-2017 Budget:
3. Al Carlson Debate Video on SB 2018 or Department of Commerce Budget:
4. DPI Statistics:
https://www.nd.gov/dpi/schoolstaff/schoolfinance/resources/ (See "Enrollment History Public School Districts 2008-2017")
5. Population Statistics: