Legislature to get new revenue forecasts for budget-writing
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- North Dakota's Legislature has a full agenda in the week ahead, including getting new revenue forecasts that will be used to write the state's upcoming two-year budget.
Other highlights this week include more work on ethics legislation, Sunday shopping and a bill aimed at fixing some oil tax distributions for constitutional funds that benefit schools.
Lawmakers have been holding off on major appropriations bills to get a better idea how much money will be available for the next two-year budget cycle.
State budget analysts and the economic consultancy Moody's Analytics unveil their revenue forecast on Monday. The Legislature's own economic consultancy, IHS Markit, will present its prediction on Tuesday.
Members of the House and Senate's appropriations committees will use the forecasts to estimate the state's tax collections for the next two years, largely by attempting to predict what the price of oil may do during that time.
Gov. Doug Burgum proposed a $14.3 billion spending plan in December that predicted more than $4.6 billion in oil and gas tax revenue. Lawmakers were more cautious, estimating revenue at $4 billion.
The new forecasts may show rosier revenue numbers due to upticks in oil prices since those budgets were crafted.
The primary sponsor of a bill that would repeal the state's longstanding Sunday business restrictions isn't feeling good about its passage.
Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones of Fargo says a straw poll shows her measure is coming up a few votes short in the Senate, just as it did two years ago.
Roers Jones is making a push through social media to have constituents lobby their senators for the bill's passage. She's also working on changing the mind of her father, Fargo GOP Sen. Jim Roers, who voted against the repeal last time.
The bill could be up for a vote on the Senate floor this week.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says about a dozen states have some form of Sunday sales laws, but only North Dakota prohibits shopping on Sunday morning.
SHORTCHANGED SCHOOL FUNDS?
One of the toughest problems facing lawmakers this session is the potential that some oil tax revenue was not deposited in a pair of constitution-mandated funds that benefit schools.
At issue is whether $137 million in revenue from extraction taxes on the oil-rich Fort Berthold Reservation should have been deposited in the funds.
Land Commissioner Jodi Smith and Democratic leaders believe it was likely misallocated. Republican leaders say the funds weren't shortchanged, but have introduced legislation to steer money toward the funds from now on -- but not retroactively.
The Land Board, chaired by Burgum, is holding an emergency meeting on the issue Monday. A hearing on the GOP bill is scheduled for Wednesday.
Senators will consider a House bill this week that makes it legal to leave a vehicle idling while no one is in it.
Representatives endorsed the measure 92-0 in January. Senators are expected to give the bill similar support.
North Dakotans, including some lawmakers at the state Capitol, routinely warm up their vehicles in the winter without being in them, ignoring a potential $1,500 state fine and 30 days in jail.
The law was put on the books nearly 75 years ago as a deterrent against automobile theft. Several states in recent years have enacted anti-idling laws in an effort to improve air quality.
Supporters say North Dakota's current law ignores the will of the people.
The House and Senate will each review the other chamber's bills developing rules to comply with a voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at ethics reform.
House Republicans and most lobbyists are supporting the GOP bill. The initiative's sponsors like the Democratic measure because they say it better reflects the constitutional amendment's intent.
The so-called anti-corruption amendment has provisions to restrict lobbying and create an independent ethics commission, among other things.
The bills differ greatly in their approach on how to adhere to the wide-ranging measure passed by voters in November.