As your Capitol Letters co-authors clack out this final installment of your weekly, three-minute update of the goings-on in the North Dakota Legislature, we’re approaching our 18th waking hour of day 80 of the 80 day legislative session. Bills now number in the single digits. Normally gruff legislators are getting sentimental. Committee rooms have a scent of, well, we’ll say “closeness.” And what a day it’s been. Please read on.
Head-shaker of the millenium: K-12 funding in the balance
The North Dakota Legislature has never used its 80th day before, and apparently the GOP majority was not content to set just one record this glorious morning. Because they took things to a whole new level of legislative dottiness on day 80. An action so cavalier, thoughtless, and outright harmful that even you, a sophisticated connoisseur of legislative news, would not expect it to be within the bounds of the GOP majority’s capacity for recklessness.
They killed the K-12 school funding bill (HB 1319). Legislation that dozens of people — Republican, Democrat, and apolitical alike — had worked on for thousands and thousands of hours. It funds education for North Dakota children.
Perhaps you already guessed: Representative Carlson was the one who orchestrated reconsideration of the bill, which had passed the House on Thursday, and led the effort to defeat the legislation on the floor by a tie vote of 46-46.
As noted by the Fargo Forum, “Democratic leaders (i.e., your Capitol Letters co-authors) issued a news release calling the bill’s defeat ‘legislative malpractice from a caucus leader and a group of followers who have become absolutely unglued,’ referring to House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo.” The Forum also correctly observed that we issued this statement “[m]oments after the vote[.]” Just sayin’.
But we weren’t the only ones who had something to say. Take, for instance, the North Dakota Education Association, which was “profoundly disappointed” by the House vote, adding that the action “defies logic and drives a stake through the heart of the bipartisan consensus that had earlier been reached on K-12 education funding.” Or the school administrators who reacted with disbelief and frustration. Or even Representative Mike Nathe, the GOP chair of the House Education Committee, who said, “We had a whole year to come up with a property tax relief plan . . . [n]ow we come up with it on day 80, I don’t see the logic in that.” Yeah. Not so much.
As we approach our deadline for publication of Capitol Letters, it appears as though a deal is close to being reached — a process which, from a mechanical standpoint, involves the GOP majority slinging around hundreds of millions of dollars and dangling school funding from a gossamer thread as idle legislators box up their creature comforts at 2:28 a.m. on the last day of the legislative session.
Faithful readers, this is no way to run a railroad. Yes, we’re glad the explosion of public pressure appears to have taken its desired effect. But why should a whole state have to freak out on a majority leader just to pass a thoroughly-vetted, bipartisan bill that funds the basic governmental function of providing access to public education? It shouldn’t. It absolutely shouldn’t.
North Dakota has been given unlimited opportunity by virtue of the lucrative development of its natural resources. We should hope for elected leaders who aim to live up to this potential. We deserve, at the very least, leaders who won’t affirmatively harm the good thing that we have going. We’ll leave it to you to decide which category the GOP majority falls into. But we wouldn’t be too quick to have Representative Carlson make us a cheese sandwich. He might just mess it up.
The good news: Stripper well fix, tribal agreement, funding for western North Dakota.
You may now be in the mood for some good news. We have some. On day 80, Dem-NPL legislators were able to work with pragmatic members of the majority to revive an oil revenue sharing agreement between the state and the Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and also enshrine a partial fix to the stripper well loophole, a long-standing priority of the Dem-NPL. People like former Senator Ryan Taylor, Senator Connie Triplett, and many others have been trying for years to close that loophole. We may not have cinched it entirely shut, but it’s now considerably smaller thanks to the never-give-up attitude of Dem-NPL legislators.
And we’ll also take a moment to remind you what didn’t pass: A cut to the oil extraction tax. Twice it was proposed. Twice it was beaten back. Billions for future generations of North Dakotans was saved. We’re proud of our Dem-NPL caucus members and hope that you are too.
The rest of the story
We have enjoyed bringing you these updates, and we’ve also been flattered by your feedback. Comments like, “You should really save all those Capitol Letters.” or “Please charge me for Capitol Letters!” have inspired us to bring you a compendious summary of the 2013 legislative session. So here it is. It’ll be up on our blog to serve as somewhat of a people’s history. We hope you and members of the general public will find it useful.
So before we conclude, we will leave you with a quote from everybody’s favorite Republican, Teddy Roosevelt. “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
Your Dem-NPL legislators believe this work is worth doing. And the chance to work hard on behalf of this state we call home is an absolute honor. We thank you for the opportunity.
Until next time, keep the faith and keep up the fight.
Mac Schneider Kenton Onstad