February 2016 Legislative Update • Senator Murphy
The Old-timers have been telling me for six years that it is easier to go into a session when there is no money than when in abundance because everyone understands when they are told no. So far you can color me dubious on that score. Listening to people who want and need their bridge and telling them no is not easy. Hearing from folks who are losing help from their County Social Services is far less than easy or comfortable. Some of the programs that we worked hard to fund the last couple of sessions are losing out. Examples released from the Dept. of Human Services include; Adjust funding for Quality Child Care contract, $1,700,000. Also, with a critical child care shortage statewide, Adjust Eligibility for Child Care Assistance Program and cost sharing, $5,031,605. In regards to not providing the second year of 3% Provider inflation, the following are scheduled to take hits; Traditional Medicaid – $3,206,587, Developmental Disability -$4,047,111, Long Term Care – $846,536, Nursing Home Providers -$1,197,156.
Some of these do not take into account Federal matching funds, so the cuts are twice as big. The list goes on to include Foster Care, Vulnerable Adult Protection, Autism, Seriously Mentally Ill and others. Sound like fun to you? I understand the ease of across- the-board cuts of 4.06%, but just in the Human Services Dept. alone one can see that some are hit harder than others, undoing legislative efforts to help those most needy. The alternative, saving some days for the Legislature to meet and haggle over how much to cut what departments would also be fraught with conflicting views and take a lot of time, but at least those elected would be making the cuts as opposed to unelected government employees. There is no easy answer, but the unnecessary reduction in the oil extraction tax from 6.5% to 5% costs North Dakota around $11,000,000 a month even at $25 a barrel. And do not buy the explanation that we had to do that as a quid pro quo for getting rid of triggers (when oil reached a certain price the tax would fall down to 1%) as the entire Senate voted to get rid of them. There was no reason to tie the two together. We as taxpayers voted in the 6.5% extraction tax on the ballot in 1980 and I did not think it proper for the Legislature to reduce it 23% in 2015, especially when oil executives told me more than once that our tax was fine the way it was and given that the industry overwhelmed us for the previous six years or so with that tax in place. It’s all about the price, folks.
I did attend the funeral for Officer Jason Mozser last Monday. While all funerals are a sobering reminder of our mortality and at least for me, a check on taking too much for granted, this particular ceremony landed a punch delivered by 2,800 peace officers. To see the red of the RCMP, the beiges and blues of our personnel from all over North Dakota and from as far away as New York gave me another level of appreciation for the bond forged by the danger they face every day. I was proud to be in their midst and fought to keep some emotional distance as the mourners included my son (a deputy from Dunn County in oil country) and nine of his department. Thank you again to all who keep us safe. In the spirit of working together, I then gave U.S. Senator Hoeven a fast ride to the airport so he could catch his ride to D.C.