- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s Senate unanimously endorsed a measure Wednesday to address a $310 million shortfall in the state budget, despite efforts from Democrats to restore some funding for social programs and property tax relief.

Senators voted 46-0 during the second day of the three-day special session to impose about $152 million in cuts to most government agencies, move up to $100 million from North Dakota’s state-owned bank and exhaust the remaining $75 million of a rainy day fund to make up for less-than-forecast revenue due to slumping oil and crop prices.

North Dakota’s Constitution prohibits deficit spending. Democrats grudgingly supported the bill after Republicans, who wield a supermajority in the Legislature, killed a trio of Democratic amendments, including restoring additional funding to the Department of Human Services, which administers and funds state social programs.

Minority Democrats also sought to take an additional $9.4 million out of Bank of North Dakota profits to offset property taxes and to transfer $29 million from the state treasury to apply toward 2-for-1 federal matching grants for social programs.

Senate Democratic Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks said the measure “misses serious opportunities” and “shows our priorities are seriously out of whack.”

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple and GOP legislative leaders crafted the measure, after the governor announced the special session a month ago.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson said the purpose of the special session was to “come here and take care of our major issues … and build a bridge” to the next session, which begins in January.

Wardner and other Republicans said they generally favored some of the Democrats’ amendments but worried they would spur even more requests to restore funding in other areas. They also worried that restoring funding to some programs may not be sustainable in the future.

Wardner said that could create “false hopes, and we may have to take it away from them again.”

“We’re going to need every cent we can scratch up,” he said.

The GOP measure also won endorsement Wednesday from the North Dakota House’s Appropriations Committee, which also killed an amendment by Democrats to restore more money for the Department of Human Services.

The GOP-led panel also snubbed Bismarck Republican Rep. Mark Dosch, who tried to offer an amendment that would more than double cuts to state agencies proposed by GOP leadership.

Dosch, who is not seeking re-election, was visibly upset that his proposal failed to get a second. He told the panel that a turnaround in North Dakota’s economy likely won’t occur anytime soon and deeper cuts are needed to keep the state in the black.

“The bleeding is not over,” Dosch said, adding that the Legislature has a “spending problem.”

“Once the money is gone, it’s gone,” he said. “Once it’s spent, it’s spent.”

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