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Port: Meet Burgum the politician

By Staff | Jan 27, 2017

North Dakotans got their first introduction to a version of Gov. Doug Burgum they haven’t met yet.

We citizens are well acquainted with Burgum the entrepreneurial success story, and Burgum the tech industry visionary, and Burgum the philanthropist. Last year during campaign season we got to meet Burgum the self-styled fiscal conservative and outsider candidate.

This last week we got to meet Burgum the politician.

It was an important moment in Burgum’s career as a political leader. Until now all we knew about how he might govern is what he has said he’d do in campaign messaging and speeches. It’s been a lot of pretty words about vision and philosophy and not a lot of hard details on how all that might funnel down into real world policy.

The occasion was HB1130, legislation introduced at the behest of the executive branch which would institute an assessment on people paying out-of-pocket for nursing home care to pay for people using nursing home beds through Medicaid.

Basically a tax on people who saved money and were prepared for their decline years to pay for people who did not (or, to be fair, could not) do those things. The revenues would be used to fill in cuts to federal funding.

The efficacy of this policy is debatable, but what’s not debatable is that Burgum broke a campaign promise in supporting the bill.

“The long-term care provider assessment was proposed in Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget, and Gov. Burgum felt it deserved consideration in keeping with his philosophy that everything is on the table when it comes to balancing the budget,” Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki told me when I inquired about the bill.

This is a major departure from Burgum’s campaign rhetoric.

In March of last year, amid a heated gubernatorial primary, Burgum signed a pledge circulated by a group of NDGOP district leaders which stated that he would “oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes or user fees.”

In May Burgum also signed a pledge from Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by conservative activist Grover Norquist who has made pledges against tax hikes kind of famous.

“It is important that voters know unequivocally that as governor I will never raise taxes. I am proud to be the first candidate in this campaign to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” Burgum said in a press release at the time announcing his signature on the pledge. “We can solve our current budget challenges by reining in our spending and right-sizing state government.”

To sum up, during the campaign Burgum told us that tax hikes and fee increases were off the table. Now that he’s in office, Burgum is saying everything is on the table.

I guess those pledges had an expiration date.

But believe it or not, I’m actually glad the governor broke those promises. Pledges against tax hikes are silly. Of course policymakers should be able to use all tools available to resolve budget issues. They shouldn’t box themselves in by pledging, on the campaign trail, things the mathematical realities of budgeting may not allow them to deliver in office.

Burgum no doubt signed these pledges because, at the time, he was an out-of-left field candidate in a nomination fight against two strong challengers.

It was an act of expediency.

I think readers know I never liked Burgum’s campaign style (though I like Burgum himself a great deal).

I’m glad the campaign and its silly trappings are taking a back seat now that the governor is engaged in crafting policy.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.

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