And….. WHAM! Just like that, the Grand Adventure is done! Pack it up, pack it in and head for home. Some online friends affectionately compared the 63rd Legislative Session to the Lord of the Rings. And, after making it through the last two weeks of the session, I began to think they weren’t too far off. I mean, really! You have the full cast of characters, the perils, pitfalls and maneuvering along the path to Mordor, and of course – the “Precious”. Which, in our case was the golden ring of power and control – oh wait, wasn’t that the metaphoric meaning of the ring in the story?
OK – so maybe a bit dramatic in comparison, but there were moments when a person had to drop back just to take it all in as movements, changes and kills were orchestrated on bills in the moment of a heartbeat. And, with the final day keeping not just legislators, but the entire state, in a state of cliffhanger for nearly 22 hours, it wasn’t a huge leap for the sense of drama to capture everyone’s attention.
It will take a little time to sort through all the bills that made it to the light of day – or to resurrect and identify those that died. Initial first glances by most seem to concur that basic infrastructure needs for our roads have been well funded throughout the state. Very good news since the physical demands on local roads increasingly are finding them inadequately maintained, and as financial deficiencies restrict the ability to keep up. At an estimated $289 million, the funds will undoubtedly be welcomed by counties and townships across the state, but since ND DOT is still working on the specific formulas, it will be just a bit before we know just how much the impact will be to our area, or how far it will go.
In the world of “soft” infrastructure needs – those needs related directly to people – it becomes much less clear just what has been done, or not done. Not including Human Services (a column or two in and of itself) and focusing on Finance and Taxes (just the facts ma’am – or, as near as we can!), we know there has been tax relief approved, with emphasis in the realm of personal income and corporate tax to the tune of $250 million. With a push for a reduction in oil tax, we’re thankful to report that these efforts, for the most part, were either squashed entirely or mitigated. Unnecessary – and not asked for! – the fundamental argument just never held water (or oil).
Property tax relief becomes a bit more schizophrenic… elusive, unwelcome and misunderstood, most bills related to direct property tax relief were killed outright. There was an estimated $656 million in funding for K-12 education that passed late Friday evening. This 60 mill funding formula is up from the previous funding of 50 mills, but in the end, is still only a 10 mill decrease to the property owner. The Homestead Tax credit was increased and expanded, and now includes disabled veterans, as well as senior citizens on fixed income. This is a great program that isn’t well known, but could provide $27 million in property tax relief – up from $12 million in the last biennium. And, in the wee hours of the Friday/Saturday morning SB 2036 passed which appropriates $200 million dollars for state-paid property tax relief credits. Altogether, it’s hard to say specifically how these funds will actually impact our property tax bills in the coming year, but it’s safe to say we should see at least some improvement.
With the regular Legislative Session over for 2013, there will be much to do to process and gather information. I understand that there were around 140 Legislative Studies that passed mustard, of which it’s expected somewhere around half that number will be picked up for actual study in the interim period. I’m hoping to sit on at least a couple of the studies related to either Human Services or Government and Veterans Affairs. This weekly column will now become a periodical piece as information becomes available, or studies provide news to report.
Know that I’m always available by phone, text, email or facebook – and would love to hear from you. Now is the time to start plotting and planning for the next Grand Adventure in 2015. Remember, no story is complete without a complete cast of characters…. would love to have you in it. Those thoughts, concerns or questions you have just might be the next great plot line!
Til next time… Enjoy those gardens, lawns, family & friends!
Rep. Gail Mooney
http://www.d20news.com or District 20 Team/Facebook