- Associated Press - Monday, May 8, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Gov. Doug Burgum’s line-item veto in an appropriation bill that provides millions of dollars to townships across North Dakota has rankled some rural officials who are lobbying the Republican -controlled Legislature to return to Bismarck.

Legislative leaders said Monday they are still gauging interest and could decide this week whether to return to the Capitol to override the veto of a $16.1 million appropriation that would have provided each non-oil producing township $10,000.

“Right now, from my tabulations, it could go either way,” said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson.

North Dakota’s Constitution gives the governor authority to veto sections of spending bills without vetoing the entire bill. The Legislature finished its 2017 session on April 27, and Burgum announced the veto the following week after lawmakers went home.

The Republican governor campaigned on a message that “runaway spending” must be controlled to rebuild the state treasury, which has been hard hit by slumping tax collections from a downturn in oil and crop prices.

Burgum said in his veto message that the “across-the-board appropriation is both arbitrary and an inefficient use” of the state’s “scarce financial resources.”

The townships received similar appropriations in the previous two sessions, and when North Dakota was flush with cash from a once-booming energy economy.

“Before that, townships were never even considered,” Wardner said. “We didn’t have the money.”

Larry Syverson, executive secretary of the North Dakota Township Officers Association, said the previous appropriations allowed townships to pay for snow removal and complete much-needed road work.

Many were able to reduce mill levy rates that are applied to the taxable value of land and buildings to calculate a property tax bill.

“We are disappointed,” Syverson said of Burgum’s veto. “It takes too much of a bite out of rural North Dakota.”

Burgum signed 440 bills in the session that just ended. He vetoed three complete bills and 10 with line-item vetoes.

Wardner and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman said the township funding veto is the only thing that could spur the Legislature to reconvene.

The session lasted 77 days, just short of the 80-day maximum set by the North Dakota Constitution. The Legislature would have three days left to address the issue, though lawmakers say it probably wouldn’t take more than a day. A two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate would be needed to override the veto.

Legislative Management, a committee of 17 lawmakers that oversees the Legislature’s business between sessions, would have to decide whether to call lawmakers back to Bismarck, though legislative leaders say it would not happen unless an override is certain.

The North Dakota Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research arm, estimates the Legislature costs state taxpayers about $80,000 daily when it’s in session, and a few thousand dollars less when not in session because fewer staff members are required to attend, the agency said.

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