BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers gave final approval to spend nearly all of the state's hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid on Friday, Nov. 12, sealing plans for an array of one-time investments in infrastructure, energy, health care and higher education projects.
Allotments for North Dakota's total $1 billion out of the American Rescue Plan Act were split between two bills for the Legislature's special session, with one proposal outlining $571 million in new project investments passing the Senate in a vote of 39-7 Friday after a 79-14 vote in the House the night before.
If the two bills get Burgum's final approval, they will invest all but about $63 million of the federal aid package, leaving the untouched portion for the next session. The governor's spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, declined to comment on how Burgum will act on the spending plan when the bills reach his desk.
North Dakota has until 2026 to burn through all of its American Rescue Plan funds, but Burgum and top GOP lawmakers pushed to spend the money quickly rather than allow it to sit through a period of rising inflation.
Legislative budget writers mapped out a spending plan for the money over a series of October meetings leading up to this week’s special session. The House and Senate appropriations committees fielded pitches for how to use the money from lawmakers and state agencies that clocked in at over $9 billion dollars, with most projects missing the cut for funding.
The single largest item in the spending plan would put $150 million in starter funding toward a trans-state pipeline to deliver natural gas from the Bakken oil fields to eastern North Dakota. That proposal has the backing of Burgum, who has pushed for the pipeline to help preserve North Dakota’s oil output and to attract industrial businesses in need of natural gas hook-ups to the eastern part of the state.
Many details about the pipeline are still being hashed out, but its route would run from the western North Dakota Oil Patch to Grand Forks. The plan is intended to attract major agribusiness investments to the east, including a $750 million wet corn mill whose commitment to Grand Forks is contingent on more natural gas access. State officials have said the mill's alternative is in Iowa, which already draws on Bakken natural gas.
Other big-ticket items include $75 million for water infrastructure, over $25 million for long-term care facilities and tens of millions of dollars for higher education renovations. The package would also put an extra injection of $20 million into a newly created state fund aimed at financing low-emissions energy projects, to be used for hydrogen grants.
Several hundred million of the total $1 billion in federal aid would go toward fulfilling appropriations made during the legislative session earlier this year. The bill directing that money passed the House on Thursday in an 83-10 vote after getting unanimous approval in the Senate earlier that day.
Allocations of the federal coronavirus aid package found broad support in the Republican-dominated Legislature, though the plans drew some pushback from several lawmakers skeptical of the big spending plan and others who suggested that some money could have gone to small businesses or critical-access hospitals. A last-minute attempt to axe more than $100 million in higher education funding projects from the bill failed on the Senate floor earlier this week.