Governor urges North Dakotans to embrace change; rethink budgeting, education, addiction treatment, tribal relations
In his first State of the State address, Gov. Doug Burgum on Tuesday said the state’s revenue challenge presents an opportunity to reinvent state government and embrace technology to hold down costs and build an economy and workforce for the 21st century.
“These powerful technological forces are fueling an underlying change in our economy and will challenge all of our existing approaches, systems and institutions,” Burgum said. “Harnessing these forces can lead to lower costs and better outcomes in health care, education and infrastructure. And these areas are some of the biggest cost drivers of our state budget.”
The budget proposal presented to lawmakers by Gov. Jack Dalrymple before he left office last month would reduce general fund spending by about $1.2 billion in the 2017-19 biennium, which Burgum called “a great start.”
“But given the revenue uncertainty, we must dig deeper,” Burgum said. “Right now is the time to right-size government.”
Burgum said he and the Legislature share many of the same goals, most notably the desire to balance the budget and fund priorities without raising taxes.
“When I took office 19 days ago, I challenged our cabinet members to spend less time defending institutions and more time reinventing them. They’re responding with enthusiasm for this quest,” he said.
The governor called for zero-based budgeting starting in the next full budget cycle in order to focus spending on areas with the highest returns. He said the state needs to examine its revenue forecasting system to more accurately reflect the impacts of volatile price swings in the agriculture and energy sectors, and also needs to establish an approach to revenue risk management, including consideration of the use of conservative hedging policies when market conditions warrant.
The current era of abundant food, energy and information requires a rethinking of existing institutions, Burgum said. His administration will take a hard look at state agencies and find efficiencies and savings through cross-cutting initiatives.
Burgum also advocated for a shift away from the state’s property tax buydown program and for long-term property tax reform by reducing the cost of local government.
His Main Street Initiative will focus on utilizing existing infrastructure to its fullest potential to reduce costs and create vibrant, healthy cities, he said. As part of that effort, Burgum said he and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford will partner with mayors and other city leaders from across the state to ensure they have the tools, programs and empowerment they need for smart, healthy growth.
Dakota Access Pipeline
Burgum spoke of impending damage to the environment and potential danger to protesters and first responders if Dakota Access Pipeline opponents don’t vacate the main camp in southern Morton County before a likely flood hits in March.
The unauthorized camp sits in a floodplain on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers. Burgum said vacating the camp and cleaning up the abandoned cars, illegal structures and human waste from months of occupation will be a costly and time-consuming effort that will require coordination from tribal, county, state and federal agencies.
“Chairman Dave Archambault from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has repeatedly asked for the remaining protesters to leave. We unequivocally support him in this request,” Burgum said.
Burgum pledged a fresh start in relations with all tribal nations in North Dakota, noting his administration will begin meeting with leaders of each tribe this week, including at a luncheon Wednesday as part of the inauguration celebration events.
“Our goal is to understand each tribe’s individual issues and circumstances so that we may move forward together toward greater mutual respect, harmony and prosperity,” he said.
At the same time, the governor assured residents affected by the dispute that maintaining the rule of law in North Dakota is still the priority.
“Peaceful protest is a protected right of all Americans,” Burgum said. “However, protesters must respect private property rights, court orders and law enforcement personnel. Acts of vandalism, harassment and trespass are not a part of North Dakota’s character and will not be tolerated.”
With nearly all of the world’s information now available for free online, Burgum said educators, parents, businesses, community organizations and legislators must all play a role in transforming the education system.
It’s not enough for students to do well on traditional measures, Burgum said. The challenge is how to equip them with the skills and mindsets they need to be creative problem solvers, effective communicators and informed, responsible citizens who are strong collaborators.
“We can’t prepare our kids for the 21st century using a 19th-century model,” he said.
As drug addiction and overdoses take their toll on North Dakota families, Burgum said the state must start treating addiction differently. Sixty-one people died in North Dakota in 2015 from overdoses, and more than $260 million was spent in the past decade on new jails at the city, county and state levels, he noted.
“Many of those in our system are there because of crimes rooted in addiction. Jail time without rehab is not a cure for addiction,” Burgum said. “We need to start treating addiction like the chronic disease that it is. By moving resources upstream, we will save lives and save money.”