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Lawmakers proposing a spending limits change for the North Dakota Emergency Commission

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The Legislature is looking at making changes to spending limits lawmakers set for a state panel that can approve state agencies accepting unforeseen federal dollars or special funds.

The Emergency Commission is made up of the Governor, the Secretary of State and four state lawmakers. The 2021 Legislature imposed spending caps on the Commission, limiting spending authority to $50 million in federal funds and $5 million in special funds. The caps were imposed because of Legislative frustration with the panel deciding how to spend federal coronavirus relief dollars. The special funds cap was later raised to $20 million.

After the original bill passed – with a $5 million special funds limit – Governor Burgum vetoed it, but the Legislature overrode the veto.

At this week’s Commission meeting, Burgum asked the lawmakers on that panel to reconsider the caps.

"I guess I'm asking the legislators that are here to take a hard look at this, and ask the question, 'What problem are we trying to solve?'" Burgum said. "I can tell you what problems it's created for the agencies, but I can't tell you what problem it solved,"

Burgum said the caps are strictly arbitrary, and arbitrarily low.

The proposal, advanced by an interim study committee, would change the federal fund cap to an amount equal to two percent of the state’s biennial budget. The special funds cap would change to one percent. That would be roughly $100 million in federal funds, and $50 million in special funds.

"I'm okay with that," said state OMB director Joe Morrissette. "Rather than having a rigid dollar amount in statute, having something connected to the size of the budget, so it would adjust as the budget adjusts over time, I think that makes sense."

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