Thursday, April 9, 2015

NDACo Week 14 Legislative Report.

Week 14 already! My how time does fly – except when you are sitting in an Appropriations Committee meeting as they walk through 13 pages of amendments to the Human Services Budget.  The wait was worth it however, as the amendments DID NOT remove the $23 million necessary to implement SB2206, the social service grant cost shift.  That was one of the few things that didn’t get cut in that budget.  The House Committee was quite aggressive in reducing the Governor’s recommendations, and there will be plenty of work on this budget in Conference Committee.

Back to SB2206 – as this policy change drives the increased state (decreased county) costs, it too was sent to House Appropriations.  The Chairman indicated that he would like to consider some amendments before they send the bill to the floor.  It seems the amendments may only address the commission created by the bill to develop a plan for 100% state funding in the future.  This will be a major county focus in the final two weeks.

The “formula bill” (HB1176) remains in the House after Monday’s unanimous passage in the Senate.  The House has the options of “concurring” with the Senate amendments, or forcing a conference committee.  There is significant support among interest groups for concurrence, and the delay in any House action seems to suggest that this is at least a possibility.  There doesn’t seem to be much concern about the increased “flexibility” to the use of the funds added by the Senate at the counties’ request, or with the fact that even though the funds will become available for construction started after January 1, 2016, it can be applied to engineering costs incurred after July 1, 2015.

The Senate Appropriations subcommittee working on the Health Dept. Budget (HB1004) recommended an add-back of $500,000 for local public health that was removed by the House.  To give you all the numbers on this, the current appropriation is $4 million, public health asked for $5.9 million, the Governor recommended $5 million, the House said $4.25 million and now the Senate is at $4.75 million – certainly not great, but considering what is happening to all budgets, it is respectable.  The challenge will be to keep this intact in the inevitable conference committee.  Unfortunately, increases to other county public health priorities were not included.

The DOT budget (HB1012) has also been reported out of the Senate committee, however it is still $400 million short of the Governor’s recommended funding level for state highway construction.  This money was removed by the House, and was not restored by the Senate, so the conference committee is the last hope.  There is not money in this budget for county roads, (as that is in HB1176), but we continue to support a strong state highway program.

The Public Service Commission Budget (SB2008) is not something counties normally track, but the Senate included language to divert $1 million from the Highway Trust Fund for a new rail safety initiative (3 new FTE) and that caught our eye.  The House Appropriations didn’t like the idea of growing government, and some agreed the funding source was inappropriate. - so the new staff and the diversion were removed.  This will however be a topic in the conference committee.

Still in the House Appropriations Committee is the DES Budget (SB2016).  This budget included $5 million coming from the Senate to begin a statewide land mobile radio project for all of public safety.  The House is struggling with the dollar amount for that.  Related to the DES budget is “the DRF Bill” (HB1112) which is now on its way to the Governor’s desk.  This bill loosens up the funds in the Disaster Relief Fund.  That fund was designed to fund the state and half the local match in federal disasters.  The bill would allow DES to provide a 50% match on local infrastructure remediation when an otherwise eligible disaster is refused by the federal  government.  This would have come in handy for last year’s flooding in the Northwest.

Two property tax bills remain to see final action.  The Governor’s property tax reform proposal (SB2144) was given a Do Pass recommendation by the House Tax Committee, but never reported out.  On the Senate Side, they have not yet taken action on HB1055, the “mills to cents” proposal.  These are both huge, complex, pieces of legislation – one we believe is quite positive for counties and one not so much. 

As you can see, much work remains.  Hope you are continuing to communicate with your legislators about your county’s concerns as they try to wrap this up in the next two weeks.    

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