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North Dakota lawmakers agree on state employee raises

Republican Sen. Ray Holmberg, right, talks with Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer before receiving updated revenue figures at the state Capitol Monday, March 11, 2019. The lawmakers chair their chamber's budget-writing committees. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota legislative budget-writers have settled differences on the level of state employee raises in the upcoming two-year budget cycle, a development that helps clear the runway leading to the end of the 2019 session.

Sen. Ray Holmberg, a Grand Forks Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Wednesday, April 3, that they agreed with the House after that chamber “sweetened the pot.” They’re eyeing a 2 percent increase in the first year with a floor of $120 per month and a maximum of $200 per month. That would be followed by a 2.5 percent increase in the second year.

"I think the proposal that came over was very fair for our state employees," Holmberg said on the Senate floor Monday.

The percentage increases are meant to be averages across the workforce. The proposal covers about 15,700 employees, Holmberg said.

Holmberg said the package targets lower-income state employees because they'll see a larger percentage increase than higher-paid workers.

The raises will cost about $84 million in total spending in the 2019-21 biennium, which starts in July, Holmberg said. Both chambers have agreed to continue fully funding employee health insurance, he said.

Lawmakers and Gov. Doug Burgum have long signaled support for state worker raises, but have differed on specifics. Employees didn't receive raises during the current biennium while lawmakers grappled with a previous reduction in tax revenue.

Burgum didn't have an immediate comment on the lawmakers' proposed raises, his spokesman said.

Both Holmberg and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said the agreement on state employee raises will help smooth out the budgeting process in the session's final weeks. But disagreements are still lurking.

"We don't even know what the sticking points will be, but there definitely will be some sticking points," Delzer said.

Lawmakers entered the session's 59th day on Wednesday. They're limited to 80 days in regular session every two years.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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