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Omdahl: Suggestions for balancing the state budget

By Staff | Sep 2, 2016

Doug Burgum, probable-governor-elect, is making bold plans to get North Dakota thinking outside of the box in the same fashion as he did when overcoming barriers to creating the billion-dollar Great Plains Software empire.

Having no prior government experience, he is not saddled with all of the baggage of bureaucratic thinking that impairs imagination. He can think freely without taking aspirin.

Before he can take us down the road to see the Wizard of Oz, however, he will need to deal with the staggering budget shortfall, solved only partly when the special session of the Legislature put a finger in the dike by draining every piggy bank. The shortfall will be twice as big when Probable-Governor-Elect Burgum arrives in Bismarck.

Since we all claim North Dakota as our own, we all have a responsibility to offer suggestions, with the given exception of refunding all of the oil, income and property tax breaks granted to ourselves in the heydays of oil.

Unfortunately, the Legislature convinced voters to stash billions of oil money in a constitutional Legacy Fund so the Legislature couldn’t get it. Oddly enough, now the Legislature can’t get it. Sometimes, foresight is good.

Asking tourists to bring their own toilet paper to the rest areas won’t quite cut it. Neither will giving the governor’s salary back to the state treasury.

Here are some better mind-expanding suggestions.

Perhaps, Doug didn’t see the Gallup study that indicated North Dakota has the highest payroll-to-population ratio of any state in the Union. This suggests that he could do something about the number of employees.

If he thinks about cutting the state payroll, he should leave the secretaries. They do all of the work. Government would keep running without so much as a coffee break.

We have twice as many elected officials as the average state. A few of them could go but they are sacrosanct so forget about them. Most people do.

We could raise speed limits to 110 MPH and lay off the State Patrol. The officers would be picked up by local police and sheriffs who are losing ground to crime according to Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

We could borrow an idea from the Christian folks who go out to fight sin and poverty with funding from the monthly support of faithful believers. They call it “raising support.”

Maybe employees in the Human Services Department could go to churches, friends and neighbors and “raise support” to continue their work with the less fortunate.

Higher education soaks up a big chunk of the state budget. If we made all of the institutions two-year community colleges, it would save millions by eliminating those expensive junior, senior and graduate classes that eat up so much faculty time.

Some states have billed prisoners for room and board but since nobody will hire felons they have not been able to pay. I don’t think prisoners are in position to “raise support” so that is not an option.

However, we could expand Rough Rider Industries at the prison with a state cannery. To supply the cannery, we could expand the prison vegetable gardens and provide summer work for the inmates. Dakota Maid Kosher Pickles! The Crunch, Crunch, Crunchiest!

Another possibility would be taking a loan against oil income expected between 2060 and 2100. Of course, we would be passing the buck to future generations but that would not be without precedent.

If we find it absolutely impossible to balance the budget, we might consider subcontracting the whole government to West Virginia. They have the lowest payroll-to-population ratio and may regard North Dakota as an investment opportunity.

I have the instructions for implementing these proposals available to everyone printed in English, Spanish and Swahili.

Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.

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