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North Dakota special session resolves budget mess in three days



Bismarck, North Dakota – After amending parts of a significant budget package that the state Supreme Court had declared unconstitutional, the Republican-controlled Legislature of North Dakota adjourned on Wednesday, putting an end to a chaotic situation that had threatened to impede government operations.

Less than a month after the unexpected decision to reject the bill – which had been passed into law in May – as unconstitutional due to its violation of a single-subject requirement, the Legislature wrapped up its extraordinary session in three days.

To replace the repealed laws, fourteen bills were passed. These measures addressed a number of issues, including transfers of state funds, financing for K–12 education, a $125 million fertilizer plant development incentive program, a criminal penalty for supplying drugs that result in overdose deaths and injuries, and the dates by which the state’s public employee pension plan will change to a 401(k)-style plan for new hires.

A separate, broader income tax cut was also rejected by the Senate at the request of Republican Governor Doug Burgum, who was not in the campaign for president at the time of the special session. Burgum referred to the denial as a “missed opportunity” for additional tax breaks in the midst of years of high state revenue and inflation.

“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 plan passed the state House of Representatives on Tuesday. It would have taken $46 million of extra state tax income in the 2024 fiscal year and $91 million every two years after that. Senate opponents pointed to the public’s higher interest in property tax savings as justification for their claims that the bill needed additional review and input and wasn’t providing “meaningful” tax relief.

With cold weather sweeping the state, lawmakers interacted, ate brownies, and drank coffee in the Senate chamber while they awaited the outcome of the votes. They adjourned at about noon and left the state capitol shortly.

A revised draft to add more legislators to the state’s public employee retirement board was also included in the passed legislation. The board’s lawsuit contesting that particular section of the invalidated legislation served as the impetus for the special session.

Traditionally, the bill that the court overturned is utilized as a cleanup or catch-all bill that is passed at the conclusion of the Legislature’s biennial session. Leaders of the Republican legislative majority warned reporters that in future sessions, the Legislature will need a method to fix errors that crop up at the last minute.

January 2025 is the planned date of the next regular session of the Legislature.