Governor Doug Burgum delivered his Executive Budget Address yesterday. It was his first since being elected in 2016. As an advocate of small government, I was extremely disappointed— yet, not surprised.
Last week I wrote about Burgum’s sneak peak into the budget when he announced his proposal to spend $30 million on a statewide tracking network for unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Between that and his support for doling out pay raises for state employees, I wondered whether our governor is truly interested in making serious cuts. Well, in my opinion, we have our answer— he’s not.
While I’ll admit that I’m likely in the minority when it comes to my limited government views, I’m not alone. One lawmaker sent me a message today that read in part, “Don’t think we need to pass the highest budget in the history of the state right now.”
And a record high budget it would be. After hitting $14.2 billion in 2015, Governor Burgum’s current proposal hits $14.3 billion.
Now, to be fair, this is certainly more conservative than the John Hoeven and Jack Dalrymple years in terms of percentages. Dustin Gawrylow of the North Dakota Watchdog Network pointed this out yesterday and Rob Port of the Say Anything Blog pointed it out today. But why should this bring us comfort when it still involves increases in spending and reluctance to cut? Furthermore, how can people — Republicans in particular — preach free markets and limited government on one hand while supporting pet projects, handouts, and overall increases on the other?
Take for example the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum that is being built in Western North Dakota. Governor Burgum is proposing $50 million towards this project. I wrote in January of this year about it. Back then I pointed out that this was originally sold as a $100 million project— with $55 – $60 million for the facility and $40 million for an endowment.
According to the Theodore Roosevelt Foundation website, the 2013 Legislature originally appropriated $12 million for the project. Foundation CEO Wally Goulet told the Bismarck Tribune, in December of 2017, that up to 80% of the funds necessary for the project would come from those outside of North Dakota. But between the original appropriation and the current one proposed by Burgum, I’m assuming that 80% figure has changed drastically.
I feel the same now as I did then. At the end of the day, if private funds aren’t sufficient to build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, then there obviously isn’t enough of a demand for the project. And if that’s the case, it should’ve been scaled back or eliminated altogether. Oh, and don’t forget that one of the board members for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation is none other than Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R – District 37). What ever happened to ridding ourselves of the “Good ‘ol Boys Club”?
Yet, the presidential library is just one of nine proposals Governor Burgum is making as part of what he calls “Legacy Projects”. These projects have a combined total of a whopping $300 million from the earnings of the Legacy Fund. We’re not talking chump change here. Truly the Legacy Fund has become an excuse for spending.
Higher education “Challenge Grants” are also one of these nine Legacy Project proposals– to the tune of $40 million themselves. This matching grant program was established during the 2013 Legislative Session and originally had an initial price tag of $29 million. Big government folks love handing out money.
These are just some of the examples of the Executive Budget that I find troubling. There’s also the $182 million to county social services– a $22 million increase. The $180 million increase in compensation and benefits for the aforementioned state employee raises. School aid spending increases by $115.5 million.
Health & Human Services makes up 29.7% of the total proposed budget. Higher education and K-12 makes up 38.2%. They are truly the sacred cows of the North Dakota budget.
I could go on. But suffice it to say that it seems as if our governor is much like the majority of our legislature— he’s just not a limited government Republican. Perhaps nothing illustrates that better than State Senator Erin Oban’s (D – District 35) comments to the Bismarck Tribune when she told them that Burgum’s budget is a “fair place for us to start.”
When North Dakota Democrats aren’t terribly unhappy, it should be a sign to Republicans that they’re doing something wrong.
(Note: If you missed the Governor’s Budget Address, you can view it by clicking here.)