Gov. Doug Burgum called on lawmakers to join him in his quest to reinvent state government Tuesday during his first State of the State Address before a joint session of the Legislature.
Burgum kicked off the 2017 session by calling on North Dakotans to adapt to a changing world and economy.
“Anything being done simply because ‘that’s the way we have always done it’ should be and must be rigorously and respectfully questioned,” Burgum said. “And no matter what, we must have the courage to admit that we can always do better.”
Burgum’s speech was short on details. However, he said he’ll be finalizing his budget proposals and introducing them during the first few weeks of the session.
Burgum said the budget has grown sharply in the past decade and, with declines in the energy and agricultural industries creating a revenue shortfall over the past year, a correction is needed.
“Right now is the time to right-size government, to balance our budget without raising taxes, to fund our priorities and do more with less,” Burgum said.
A nearly $1.4 billion budget shortfall required two rounds of budget cuts last year.
Former Gov. Jack Dalrymple outlined a $13.475 billion budget proposal during the December organizational session. His budget includes a balancing act between cuts to hundreds of state employee positions, replenishing state rainy day funds and a state takeover of county social services to make a 12 percent state-paid property tax credit permanent.
“We must begin the long, hard process of reforming property taxes — and we’re open to any and all ideas to reform our current system,” Burgum said. “True long-term reform requires that we reduce the cost of local government.”
Burgum also addressed the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and the impact on relations between the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the state.
“The Dakota Access Pipeline protests began with a debate concerning legitimate issues raised by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, including protecting our valuable water resources and a desire for genuine government-to-government consultation,” Burgum said. “Those original concerns have been hijacked by those with alternative agendas.”
Protesters have been camping in southern Morton County and opposition to the $3.8 billion, four-state project has led to more than 570 arrests and millions in law enforcement response costs since August.
Burgum said local, tribal, state and federal agencies will need to work together to clean up the protest camp site when the protests have ended.
“Vacating the unauthorized main camp on Army Corps land — cleaning up the abandoned cars, illegal structures and human waste from months of occupation — will be a costly and time-consuming effort,” Burgum said.
He told lawmakers relationships between the state and the tribes have been frayed since the protests began and they’ll take time to repair.
“I pledge my administration to a fresh start in our relations with all tribal nations who live with and among us,” Burgum said. “Our goal is to understand each tribe’s individual issues and circumstances so that we may move forward together.”
Burgum will hold meetings with leaders of each of the state’s tribes this week. Legislative leadership also has a separate series of meetings this week.