Valley City Times-Record

Legislativ­e session on track to address ND’s biggest challenges

- By Gov. Doug Burgum Gov. Doug Burgum is the 33rd governor of North Dakota.

As North Dakota’s legislativ­e session reaches its halfway point with over 700 bills remaining, the opportunit­y to make a positive difference in the lives of our citizens has never been greater.

Across the state, with help wanted signs in the windows of businesses large and small, our citizens and communitie­s are feeling the effects of North Dakota’s No. 1 barrier to economic growth – the workforce shortage.

Our laser focus on this critical issue was evident with the first bill that legislator­s sent to my desk to be signed. Providing $68 million in matching funds will help establish 13 career academies across the state where students can pursue high-demand careers in the trades, health care, technology and other sectors.

The second bill signed this session also was workforce-focused, expanding workers’ compensati­on coverage for full-time firefighte­rs and law enforcemen­t and sending a clear message in North Dakota and beyond that we mean it when we say we “back the blue.”

This only scratches the surface of what we can accomplish this session to attract talent and capital to our state, remove barriers to workforce participat­ion and provide hardworkin­g North Dakotans with real, meaningful tax relief.

When government collects more revenue than it needs to operate, the top priority should be allowing citizens to keep more of their hardearned money in their pockets. State general fund revenues are running $785 million, or 24%, ahead of forecast for the biennium that ends June 30, 2023, and our overall savings are at record levels.

Thanks to conservati­ve budgeting, overflowin­g reserves and a strong economy, we’re able to prioritize tax relief with a package that would completely eliminate individual income tax for nearly 60% of those working North Dakotans who currently pay income tax, saving them over $566 million per biennium. For example, a family of five with combined income of $75,000 would save nearly $500 on their state income tax bill.

For those who would still pay income tax, the flat rate of 1.5% proposed in House Bill 1158 would make North Dakota the lowest flat-tax state in the nation, helping us retain existing workers and better compete with other states for new residents – including oil producing states with no personal income tax such as Alaska, Texas and Wyoming.

We also understand the strong desire for the state to help ease the burden of locally driven property taxes. We welcome the opportunit­y to work with local elected officials to find strategic ways to reduce property taxes, which could mean targeted programs like the proposed expansion of the Homestead Tax Credit.

With more than 30,000 open jobs and the nation’s second-lowest unemployme­nt rate at 2.3%, North Dakota must take a comprehens­ive approach to solving our workforce shortage, including a stakeholde­rled proposal to improve child care availabili­ty, affordabil­ity and quality.

Workforce, tax relief, infrastruc­ture, education – these are just some of the priority areas we’re working on for the benefit of all North Dakotans, including the tribal nations with whom we share geography.

We’re pleased that our red tape reduction efforts aimed at making government more efficient and responsive to citizens are moving forward, with 52 bills advancing so far.

We continue to advocate for $50 million for destinatio­n developmen­t to support workforce attraction, communitie­s and tourism growth.

The House has passed funding for a new women’s correction­al facility, which will improve outcomes and access to health care for those incarcerat­ed, making for better neighbors once they’re released.

Investment­s in behavioral health programs will reduce costs downstream and enhance access to much-needed services for mental health, addiction and recovery.

Working with legislator­s, Agricultur­e Commission­er Doug Goehring and ag groups to update overly restrictiv­e laws with the Next Generation Animal Agricultur­e bill will reverse our decades-long decline in poultry, hogs and dairy, provide local markets for consuming processed corn and soybean co-products as feed, add value to farmers’ crops and strengthen rural communitie­s.

And we’re working to accelerate growth of the Legacy Fund and conservati­vely distribute earnings into four categories: infrastruc­ture, economic diversific­ation and research, community and workforce developmen­t, and legacy projects.

Our administra­tion remains focused on these priorities and looks forward to continuing our work with the legislatur­e to ensure that our state, our communitie­s and all of our citizens can reach their fullest potential.

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