Some members of the Legislature’s Budget Section believe lawmakers should have had more of a say in how federal money from the CARES Act is spent.
That act provided North Dakota with $1.25 billion for COVID-19 –related spending.
The state’s Emergency Commission is made up of Gov. Doug Burgum, Secretary of State Al Jaeger, and the majority leaders and Appropriations Committee chairs of both chambers of the Legislature, all Republicans. The Commission makes decisions on how to divvy up that money, and the Budget Section can only vote “yes” or “no” on those expenditures.
House Minority Leader Joshua Boschee (D-Fargo) said he thinks lawmakers should have more of a role in how the money is spent. Boshee said those spending proposals often come with policy attached.
"I continue to express my disappointment that we as a Legislative body have not taken on our responsibility to shepherd through this $1.25 billion, other than to do an 'up or down' vote at the end of the process," Boschee said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg (R-Grand Forks) said this current system was the result of actions in the 1991 Legislature, in a bill introduced on behalf of then-Gov. George Sinner (D), with a Democratic majority on the Emergency Commission. But Holmberg said he agrees with Boschee that the Legislature should take another look at this.
"Back in 1991, the dollar amounts were vastly different than what we have before us today," Holmberg said. "We would be derelict in our duty as Legislators if we didn't take another look at how this operates."
In previous meetings of the Budget Section, Sen. Tim Mathern (D-Fargo) had pushed for a special session to deal with spending. Mathern said he felt the Legislature has ceded too much power to the executive branch.
"We have given., through the decades, more authority to the Governor for executive orders," said House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R-Carrington). "We as a Legislative body have a duty to have a discussion on that in the next regular session."
That next session convenes in Jaunary.