North Dakota special session resolves budget mess in three days

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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Republican-controlled Legislature adjourned Wednesday after rewriting provisions of a major budget bill that was voided by the state Supreme Court, resolving a mess that had threatened to stymie government operations.

The Legislature completed its special session in three days, less than a month after the surprising ruling that rejected the bill, which was signed into law in May, as unconstitutional for violating a single-subject requirement.

Fourteen bills were passed to reconstruct the voided legislation. Those bills covered: transfers from state government funds; K-12 education funding; a $125 million incentive program for the development of a fertilizer plant; a criminal penalty for supplying drugs resulting in overdose deaths and injuries; and effective dates for transitioning the state's public employee pension plan to a 401(k)-style plan for new hires.

Additionally, the Senate rejected an unrelated, expanded income tax cut pressed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, who was off his presidential campaign trail during the special session. Burgum called the rejection a “missed opportunity” for more tax relief amid years of inflation and flush state revenue.

“The proposed bill that was voted today was an up-or-down vote: Do we want to give people in our state dollars back that they've paid in?” Burgum told reporters. “That's what it was about. It wasn't about procedure. It wasn't about policy. It wasn't about ‘is this the right time?’”

The tax proposal, which would have used $46 million of excess state tax revenue in the 2024 tax year and $91 million every two years thereafter, sailed through the state House of Representatives on Tuesday. Senate opponents said the bill needed more vetting and input and wasn’t “meaningful” tax relief, and cited constituents’ greater interest in property tax cuts.

Lawmakers drank coffee, munched brownies and mingled in the Senate chamber while waiting for final votes, with wintry weather bearing down on the state. They quickly left the state Capitol after adjourning around noon.

The passed legislation also included a modified bill to appoint more legislators to serve on the state's public employee retirement board. The special session was sparked by a lawsuit by the board that challenged that provision of the voided legislation.

The bill the court struck down has traditionally been used as a catchall or cleanup bill passed at the end of the Legislature's biennial session. Republican legislative majority leaders told reporters that the Legislature will need a way to correct mistakes that occur late in future sessions.

The Legislature's next regular session is scheduled for January 2025.