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Burgum gives upbeat State of the State Speech; pushes his priority issues

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Dave Thompson
/
Prairie Public

Gov. Doug Burgum gave an upbeat "State of the State" address to a joint session of the Legislature Tuesday.

He used the speech to push for his priorities in the 2021 Legislative session. One of his top priorities -- a $1.25 billion bonding proposal, that uses state Legacy fund earnings to retire the bonds. Burgum said having the Legacy Fund gives the state – as he put it – “an opportunity unlike any other state to invest in the future.”

"We can save tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars,  for the state and for our taxpayers, and for our political subdivisions, over time, by investing now, versus waiting for years and years to payh cash for aging infrastructure," Burgum said.

Burgum also advocated for the creation of a $700 million revolving loan fund for high-dollar infrastructure projects.

Burgum’s proposal is one of several bonding proposals the Legislature will look at in the 2021 session.

Burgum is calling for the development of a permanent Higher Education Stabilization and Transformation  Fund. He said the issue should be studied and developed, for an implementation by 2024.

"This fund should be used to stabilize higher education funding, finding ways to drive growth, and incentivize increased public-private partnerships in 21st-century education models," Burgum said.

University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott has proposed a stabilization fund for higher ed in the past. He said it would be similar to the K-12 Stabilization fund.

During his speech, Burgum announced a new Unified Spill Reporting System in his State of the State Address. He said the Departments of Emergency Services, Environmental Quality and Natural Resources have been working on the new system.

"The result is a simplified, one-stop reporting system for hazardous material spills, eliminating the need for producers and the public to report spills to 3 or 4 different state agencies," Burgum said. "Like before you dig, this is one call for spills."

Burgum said this new system will also provide increased transparency on spills.

On COVID, Burgum said North Dakota is off to a “great start” with the new vaccines.

"North Dakota currently ranks third in the nation in the number of people per capita initiating vaccination, according to the CDC," Burgum said. "More than 24,000 North Dakotans have received their first dose."

Burgum said the battle against COVID is far from over – but he said there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Democrat response

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North Dakota House Minority Leader Josh Boschee (D-Fargo) said Governor Burgum’s “State of the State” speech was what he expected.

Boschee said Burgum is known for finding the positives, and he said there are a lot of positive things going on in the state. But he said he was disappointed there was little in Burgum’s speech about what the state could do for families that are suffering due to the pandemic and economic hardships.

"When we talk about the economy in he state, there seems to be a lot of focus on industry, and a lot less focus on the folks who actually do the work," Boschee said. "That's going to be one of our priorities in the session."

Boschee said the priorities are to invest in research and innovation, as well as infrastructure. He also said there will be a push for paid family leave.

"How do we use that as a tool to recruit workforce to North Dakota, and support small businesses," Boschee said.

Boschee lso said he believes the bonding issue, tied with uses for Legacy Fund proceeds, will frame much of the discussion in the session.

"This is an opportunity for us to access money cheaply, but also free-up money for other priorities that need to get funded," Boschee said.

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