- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Republican Gov. Doug Burgum presented a preferred spending plan to North Dakota lawmakers Monday evening that calls for deeper cuts in the state budget than suggested by his GOP predecessor.

The budget statement comes a month after Burgum took office, and recommends $4.6 billion in spending over the next two years, or about $159 million less than proposed by then-Gov. Jack Dalrymple in early December.

Burgum campaigned on a message that North Dakota has gotten itself into a fiscal jam because of “runaway spending” that must be controlled to rebuild its treasury. His budget, including federal aid, is $13.3 billion. That’s about $168 million less than Dalrymple’s budget proposal and nearly $1 billion less than the current two-year budget cycle.

North Dakota state government spending has risen more than $8 billion in the past decade. The budget is a major topic during the session, with the state experiencing a sharp downturn in tax revenues due to prolonged slumps in oil and agriculture prices.

Burgum met late Monday afternoon with members of the Republican majority, and later those in the Democratic minority.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, and his Republican Senate counterpart, Rich Wardner, said they agreed in principal to Burgum’s budget theme, though they said they needed more time to study the plan.

“More adjustments need to be made but it’s a very good start,” Carlson said.

Burgum’s budget plan also predicts lower oil prices than Dalrymple’s $53 a barrel set in his proposal. Burgum’s estimated oil price over the next two years is $48 a barrel, similar to estimates by the Legislature and industry leaders.

North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature already had lowered expectations on tax collections by more than $170 million for the current biennium due to depressed energy and commodity prices.

Dalrymple had suggested cutting 583 full-time state employees, while Burgum’s budget plan calls for eliminating about 50 additional full-time positions in state government.

Burgum’s plan also calls for state employees to chip in on their health insurance, while offering no raises over the next two years.

House Minority Leader Corey Mock agreed with Burgum’s plan to reduce revenue projections, but questioned the new governor’s desire to cut back on employees and their benefits.

“This proposal has come with no conversation with public employees,” Mock said. “If you want to reduce their benefits, then we can’t be disappointed when we can’t recruit and retain them.”

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