- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Tuesday he’s willing to talk to Democrats about ways to deal with the state’s projected budget shortfall, but doesn’t believe a special session is necessary.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider on Tuesday asked Dalrymple to convene a “very brief, very focused” session that would help tackle money problems due primarily to low oil and crop prices. During the news conference in Fargo, Schneider said the 4 percent across-the-board cuts ordered by Dalrymple on Feb. 1 lacked depth and discussion.

“We are asking the governor to be strategic, to be thoughtful, in responding to the state,” Schneider said.

Dalrymple will meet with legislative leaders to discuss their ideas, policy adviser Jeff Zent said, “and he will share the reasons why we don’t think there is any point” to hauling lawmakers back to Bismarck.

Schneider said Democrats realize the need to curb spending in light of an expected budget shortfall that could top $1 billion, but that the governor’s cuts place too much stress on families, health care providers and the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

The Democrats have a plan of their own, which Schneider says would leave about 80 percent of Dalrymple’s cuts in place.

Under the plan, $10 million from the $61 million in the Tax Relief Sustainability Fund would be used to fully fund the state’s 12 percent property tax buydown program. It also would use $40 million from of the $107 million in the state’s Strategic Investment and Improvements Fund, most of which would go to human services programs.

The tax relief and strategic investments funds are expected to top out at a combined $500 million by June 2017, Schneider said.

Restoring some of the state’s human services allotments would maintain $56 million in matching federal funds, veteran Democratic Sen. Tim Mathern said.

“There are many people who are hurting because of these cuts,” Mathern said.

Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson, of Fargo, could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.

Schneider said a special session would likely cost “tens of thousands of dollars a day,” but believes a lot of legwork can be done by interim legislative committees.

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