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Wardner: New COVID relief money could be used for PERS, roads and bridges

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A new COVID-19 relief bill is pending In Congress.

And it appears North Dakota could be receiving a substantial chunk of money from it. Lawmakers aren’t yet sure how much, but they say it could be around $4 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) said a plan is taking shape to use $1 billion of that for the unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System. He said that will erase that liability. Then Wardner said the plan going forward is to convert the retirement plan from “defined benefit” to “defined contribution.” Wardner said that would be for new hires.

"Many of our newer and younger people want a defined contribution, so that when they leave, they can take it with them," Wardner said. "A defined benefit stays. Or they can take out the money they put in, and not the money the employer puts in. A defined contribution plan allow you to be mobile with it."

Wardner said any COVID relief money will be considered for one-time spending – and that also could include some money for roads and bridges.

"We have some places, especially in the eastern part of the state, where you have township and county roads that have been inundated with water," Wardner said. "And they need to be fixed."

Wardner said there are farmers and agribusinesses having trouble getting crops and product to market.

"They're having a tough time," Wardner said.

Wardner said if the money comes through after the Legislative Session gavels out, he expects lawmakers will come back in a special session to take care of the spending plans.

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