- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 2, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A little more than a year after the North Dakota Legislature spent a record amount of cash in its 2015 session, Gov. Jack Dalrymple summoned lawmakers back to Bismarck Tuesday to deal with a projected $310 million revenue shortfall due to slumping oil and crop prices.

His message: “Belt-tightening is the order of the day.”

North Dakota’s Legislature meets every two years, but the Constitution allows the governor to call a special session on “extraordinary occasions,” which Dalrymple made clear has happened due to less-than-expected tax collection.

“It’s good to have our legislators in the Capitol but I think we would all have preferred not to be here in August,” Dalrymple told a joint session of the Legislature. “However, our state Constitution prohibits deficit spending.”

The Republican-led Legislature adjourned in April 2015 before passing a record $14.2 billion budget. But crop and oil prices have plummeted since then, forcing budget writers to twice lower predictions for tax revenue from those cornerstones of the state’s economy.

Dalrymple alone dealt with the first estimated shortfall of $1.1 billion in February by ordering a raid on a rainy day fund and cuts to most government agencies.

Another revenue forecast done since then says the deficit will swell to $310 million if nothing is done by the time the current budget cycle ends on June 30, 2017. Dalrymple this time called lawmakers back to the Capitol to deal with it. The session is to last three days, which is the minimum amount of time needed to push a bill through the Legislature.

“We all knew the day would eventually come when the markets for crude oil and farm commodities would take a turn for the worse, and that these downturns would also impact our tax receipts,” the governor said.

Dalrymple is endorsing a bill crafted with GOP legislative leaders that would make further cuts to government agencies, skim profits from North Dakota’s state-owned bank and drain what’s left of a rainy day fund to make up the shortfall.

The measure won endorsement Tuesday by the Senate’s delayed-bills committee, which is controlled Legislature’s GOP leadership. It later got approval from the Senate appropriations committee, which rejected an amendment by Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, that would have restored additional funding to the Department of Human Services, which administers and funds state social programs.

Mathern said he would “take another crack” at his amendments on the Senate floor, which is allowed under Senate rules.

The GOP bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration on Wednesday morning, and House appropriations later that afternoon.

Rep. Mark Dosch, R-Bismarck, said he intended to offer an amendment in the House that would more than double cuts to state agencies proposed by GOP leadership.

“I see nothing in our current economy in oil prices, in ag prices that would indicated to me that this slide is over,” Dosch said.

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