According to my trusty Google search engine, the definition for "spendthrift" is "a person who spends money in an extravagant, irresponsible way." It’s a fitting definition and one that could just as well be listed as a definition under "North Dakota Legislature".
Now, just in case you disagree and think that’s unfair, I also looked up synonyms for the word "spendthrift". They include words such as squanderer, waster, imprudent, and big spender. Yeah, I stand by my original statement… it’s a fitting definition for the North Dakota Legislature.
As the 65th Legislative Session draws to a close, I can only sum up my feelings towards the financial aspect of it in one word… disappointing. We all knew going into the session that the legislature had a spending problem in recent bienniums. Spending more than doubled over the last ten years.
We also knew that North Dakota ran into some economic woes in the most recent biennium as former Governor Jack Dalrymple had to call the legislature back into special session last August to deal with a $310 million budget shortfall. A self-inflicted problem for sure.
For some of us, the hope was going into the current session that the legislature had learned its lesson and was prepared to cut, cut, cut. You know, to maybe show some true fiscal conservatism. It was our hope – our dream – and as I’ve been told many times about dreams, "It’s yours. You can have it any way you want it." It seems it will remain that… just a dream.
Rep. Tom Kading (R – District 45) recently released a series of Facebook videos explaining the budgeting process. In his third video, he said the legislature will end up draining $840 million from special funds in order to balance the budget for the upcoming biennium. Rep. Kading serves on the Appropriations Committee. I’m going to assume he knows what he’s talking about.
I spoke with another legislator who was very critical of his colleagues at the State Capitol. He confirmed what Rep. Kading said and acknowledged that this legislature is spending beyond their projected revenues and are "draining the savings". If this isn’t irresponsible, then I’m not sure what is.
Even to those of us who dreamed of true fiscal conservatism, this is not really surprising. Just prior to the session starting in January, I wrote about Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R – District 37), just three weeks after the aforementioned special session, saying he was “counting on the revenue from the Legacy Fund”. And Rep. Tom Campbell (R – District 19) appearing on the Rob (Re)Port identifying multiple funds he was interested in tapping into to balance the budget.
In that article I wrote this:"The talk of raiding reserve funds indicates the apparent inability of some legislators to embrace the idea of making significant budget cuts.
"… Between the last Special Legislative Session and the current talk coming out of Bismarck, it certainly seems like some legislators have no problem kicking the can down the road a bit further. Whether it’s now or later, significant cuts need to be made. And walking this fine line between revenue and spending is not only shameful, it’s irresponsible."
I should point out that there are true fiscally conservative Republicans who have advocated for deeper cuts this session. The problem is that there hasn’t been enough of them. Especially in the Senate. They’re outnumbered by those who prefer to spend; hoping that oil and agricultural commodity prices will rebound and enable them to continue acting more like Democrats than the Republicans they espouse themselves to be.
As the spendthrifts gamble with the economic future of North Dakota, the 2019-2020 legislative session may very well be a tough one. Hold onto your pocketbook. With the lack of resolve to cut deep and embrace small government, things may get ugly in the years to come.
1. "WILL THE NORTH DAKOTA LEGISLATURE KICK THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD?" (The Minuteman Facebook page – December 15, 2016)