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AS I SEE IT

Posted 4/25/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

You have to give North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple credit. He knows that most North Dakotans don’t like to see government growth. Nor do they like to see their taxes go up, or more importantly, their tax dollars wasted.
So to send the message to North Dakotans that even though our economy is firing on all cylinders and more money is flowing into the state’s treasury than ever, he isn’t in favor of seeing our state government grow.
And that is exactly the message he issued to state agency heads as he called them to use a balanced approach that will hold the line on spending for the 2013-2015 biennium. But he took his austerity address one step further when he also called on them to draft optional budget packages that include potential spending reductions of three percent in the event that savings are needed.
Yes, North Dakotans want their state government, and the agencies that are spending their tax dollars to be efficient and frugal. (Think about the Government Services Administration’s wasteful junket to Las Vegas in 2010 that cost taxpayers $823,000 for 300 government employees.)
But is the governor really serious about asking each and every state agency to keep their 2013-15 budget request at the same level as they were funded this current biennium? Or to realistically develop a contingency budget that would result in a three percent decrease from their existing budget?
Obviously so. Because that is exactly what he has asked his agencies to do.
Granted, there are no doubt many state agencies that should be able to maintain their existing program levels without significant cost increases while still providing North Dakotans with a very high level of service.
But given the continued high level of energy development that is occurring in western North Dakota, along with the rapid growth of communities and the huge demand for services associated with the population increases, one would find it hard to believe that the governor can realistically expect every state agency to hold the line on their budget increases.
Can you imagine the negative ramifications to this part of the state if the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation, the highway patrol and Social Services, to name just three state agencies, could do no more to help the impacted cities, counties and the people of western North Dakota than what they are currently doing? Western North Dakota needs more improvement on the state and local roadways as traffic continues to increase. We need more Highway Patrolmen on our highways to keep them safe and to enforce truck weight limits. And we need more social workers to deal with the demands associated with our rapidly increasing population.
So when the governor calls for a “hold the line” approach to state budgets in the coming biennium, it should be a cause for concern for local elected officials and the residents of western North Dakota.
On one hand, the governor has consistently pledged continued support for western North Dakota to deal with roads and infrastructure needs. But on the other hand, he is telling his state agencies that they will have to do more with the same amount of money.
Accomplishing both will be a very tough to achieve.