What about that Main Street initiative?

Next to “more budget cuts,” the three words heard most often during the first week of the 65th session of the North Dakota Legislature were “Main Street Initiative.”

Jacobs

By MIKE JACOBS
NDNA

Author’s Note:

Hello readers! You’ll find news about the North Dakota Legislature in these pages this winter. The writer is Mike Jacobs – that’s me – retired editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

I’ll be writing regularly about issues of statewide interest, including education, taxation, agriculture, mental health – pretty much the whole range of topics that arise in the Legislature. On occasion, I’ll write about politics, as well. Sometimes, I’ll write about personalities.

The North Dakota Newspaper Association is sponsoring this reporting.  The association includes this newspaper and 89 others in the state.

At the association, we believe that more news is better news. We hope you’ll agree – and that you’ll find this coverage a way to keep up with developments in Bismarck.

Let me know what topics interest you especially. I might not get to all of them, but I’ll try to provide coverage of the topics of the widest interest.

My email address is mjacobs@polarcomm.com.

Thanks and good reading.

Next to “more budget cuts,” the three words heard most often during the first week of the 65th session of the North Dakota Legislature were “Main Street Initiative.”

Initially legislative leaders shook their heads and shrugged their shoulders. “Too vague.” they said.

Not to worry, said Doug Burgum, the new governor who stuck the phrase into his state-of-the-state address.

Details to come by the end of the month, he said.

In an interview, Burgum said he has asked state agencies to evaluate how their activities contribute to sprawl, not just in North Dakota’s major cities but in its small towns as well.

Sprawl is expensive, he said in the interview and in his state-of-the-state address.  Curbs and gutters are expensive up front — and later on, as well, because streets have to be maintained and cleared, an especially pertinent point in this snowy winter.

Opportunities to save money are clear, Burgum suggested.

Other cost-saving opportunities are less apparent.

In health care, for example: At a pep talk during the official inaugural ceremony, Burgum stressed that walking regularly would reduce the threat of disease and disability – and planning infrastructure could make walking more attractive to more people.

These notions didn’t attract immediate support among legislators. Al Carlson, the leader of the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives, said North Dakotans prefer living in less dense suburban or rural areas rather than in more densely populated urban centers.

Not only that, he argued, local governments should decide what roads are appropriate, rather than the state government.

State policies can influence local development decisions, Burgum said in the interview. He said he’d ask such state departments as Commerce, Transportation and Health to identify ways that state policies encourage sprawl and ways that state policy could reduce it.

Tools such as economic development incentives, school construction grants and highway construction projects should be evaluated for their impact on main streets, Burgum said.

But he’s not advocating a one-size-fits policy, he said.

Main Street initiatives would differ between Grand Forks and Cavalier, for example. They would address infrastructure – curbs and gutters and others – in Fargo, one of the least densely populated urban areas in the nation.

Policies such as these aren’t intended to restrict growth, but to direct growth so that communities have fewer costs to build and maintain infrastructure such as street and sewer lines.

These goals are clear enough, but how they would be accomplished is more vague.

By the end of the month, Burgum said in the interview, there will be a suite of proposals involving state agencies and local governments.

So for the Main Street Initiative?

Stay tuned.