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Holmberg: If the state budget needs tightening, lawmakers rise to the occasion

The current state budget uncertainties because of the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices hearkens back to 2015-2016.

Low oil prices and a weak farm economy meant a drop in tax collections – not only oil, but sales tax as well. And a revenue forecast issued on Feb. 1, 2016, predicted a $1 billion budget shortfall. So, agencies had to come up with budget cuts.

And state Legislators also had to weigh in.

"We had the luxury of no choice," said Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks). "We did not have money."

Holmberg said lawmakers stepped up to meet the challenge, on a bi-partisan basis. He said budgets overall were reduced by 12 percent.

"There were a total of 48 budget bills that fund all of government," Holmberg said. "And the Senate passed 43 of them unanimously."

Holmberg said for the other 5 bills, there were only a few "nay" votes.

In a special session called before the 2017 regular session, Holmberg said lawmakers passed a bill that called for a general five percent reduction in state spending. The vote in the Senate was unanimous.

"The Legislature has a history that you can look at," Holmberg said. "You can say, 'Yes, they got it. They respected reality, and they did what they had to do."

The state has money in certain “rainy day” funds, such as the Budget Stabilization Fund and the K-12 Stabilization Fund,  that could soften any potential budget cuts. And state budget officials say until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and oil prices plummeted, the state was actually collecting more money than forecast. But the officials say it’s still too early to gauge the true impact of those two events on tax collections going forward.

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