Tuesday, January 3, 2023 - 02:15pm

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BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum today delivered his 2023 State of the State Addresscalling for significant infrastructure investment, highlighting opportunities to diversify and grow the economy in agriculture, energy and other sectors, and emphasizing the need to address the state’s workforce challenges and provide tax relief to North Dakotans hit by higher costs for food, fuel and other necessities.

“In today’s global uncertainty, our energy and food security make us the envy of many,” Burgum said, addressing a joint session of the 68th Legislative Assembly in the House chamber as lawmakers began their regular biennial session. “Today the State of our State is one of strength and infinite opportunity, blessed with our abundant natural resources, inherent freedoms and industrious, caring people.”

Addressing workforce, advocating tax relief

A shortage of workers statewide continues to be North Dakota’s No. 1 barrier to economic growth, Burgum said.

As he did during his Dec. 7 budget address, Burgum again proposed attacking the issue from multiple angles by honoring funding commitments for career academies; supporting child care affordability and availability to increase workforce participation; incentivizing industries to adopt automation; investing in workforce development and recruitment programs; and focusing on community development, including enhancing tourism offerings and doubling down on the successful Renaissance Zone program.

To make the state a more attractive, affordable place to live and better compete for workers, Burgum also urged lawmakers to approve a proposed income tax relief plan that would eliminate the state individual income tax for three out of five taxpayers and create the lowest flat-rate individual income tax in the nation.

“Inflation and rising interest rates are eating away at family finances. Consumer prices in November were up over 7% from a year ago,” Burgum said. “Let’s show our working families in North Dakota that we understand their struggles by expediting this income tax relief legislation and making it one of the first bills to be signed this session.”

The governor also voiced his support for pending legislation from state Sen. Scott Meyer of Grand Forks that would exempt active-duty military pay from the state’s individual income tax.

Seeking storm aid, infrastructure investment

Reflecting on the past year, Burgum noted that severe winter storms and record snowfall impacted much of North Dakota last April and during the last three months of 2022, with Bismarck receiving a record 51-plus inches of snow, a record for the city in October-December.

The governor thanked state and local snowplow operators and first responders for their work during the storms. Burgum recognized North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) snowplow operator Michelle Fender-Nagle from the Valley City area for her 34 years of service, and Highway Patrol Trooper Alex Breitbach for his bravery during a Nov. 9 pileup on Interstate 94 near Jamestown where he narrowly escaped a semitrailer crushing his squad car.

Burgum thanked Sen. Terry Wanzek and Rep. Mike Brandenburg for proposing $20 million in emergency snow removal grants to be awarded to state, local and tribal governments who have already exceeded their average snow removal budgets, and urged lawmakers to expedite the funding.

“The unprecedented start to the winter season has strained resources at every level of government. This historic weather calls for prompt action,” he said. “As state leaders, we have an opportunity to act quickly to relieve pressures in communities across the state.”

The state has made great progress on the NDDOT’S 10-year infrastructure plan, investing $318 million so far this biennium to rebuild aging roads and bridges, Burgum noted.

“With our proposed 2023-25 state budget’s unprecedented $2.4 billion investment in infrastructure projects across the state, we can accelerate this progress and can pave the way for future growth and economic prosperity,” he said.

Farm Freedom proposed

Burgum commended North Dakota farmers for leading the nation in the production of several crops. However, he noted that North Dakota has fallen far behind neighboring farm states when it comes to animal agriculture. For example, South Dakota ranks 8th in cattle and calves and 10th in hogs and pigs, while North Dakota ranks 15th and 24th, respectively. Since peaking in 1934, the number of dairy cows in North Dakota has dwindled from 701,000 cows to just 15,000 cows, and the state is now a milk importer.

Burgum called on lawmakers to increase individual farming freedoms for non-relatives to pool their resources to start or expand livestock operations by relaxing the state’s anti-corporate farming law, similar to exemptions that exist for animal agriculture under South Dakota’s law.

“Let’s take the handcuffs off our ranchers and livestock producers. Let’s allow animal agriculture to flourish in North Dakota once again. We need Farm Freedom legislation, and we need it now,” Burgum said.

Highlighting CCUS potential

Burgum also highlighted the role that carbon capture, storage and utilization (CCUS) is having in creating a sustainable path forward for the agriculture and energy industries, including carbon capture and sequestration that began in July at the Red Trail Energy ethanol plant near Richardton; a carbon capture component that helped secure the sale of Coal Creek Station near Underwood; and Denbury Resources using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery in Bowman County.

North Dakota is one of only two states with authority to permit Class VI injection wells for CO2 storage and is better positioned than other states to take advantage of the emerging CCUS industry, Burgum said.

“Today, we’re on our way toward achieving carbon neutrality as a state by 2030, thanks to our extraordinary capacity to safely store over 252 billion tons of CO2, or 50 years of the nation’s CO2 output,” he said. “And in the process, we can help secure the future of our state’s two largest industries, energy and agriculture.”

TR Presidential Library gets major gift

Speaking about the importance of tourism destinations in driving visitors and potential residents to North Dakota, Burgum announced that Continental Resources Board Chairman Harold Hamm recently completed a $50 million gift to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation.

A $50 million endowment approved by the 2019 legislature and being held by the state has been leveraged to drive over $100 million in private investment for the planned Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora.

Looking to further expand tourism destinations, Burgum highlighted the executive budget’s request for over $51 million to improve and expand state parks and recreation sites, including a new campground at the Pembina Gorge, planning for upgrades at Lake Metigoshe and new cabins across state parks. The budget also proposes a $50 million Destination Development Fund to be matched by private or non-state sources to build or expand unique attractions.

FAA grants initial approval related to Vantis

As efforts continue to diversify the state’s economy with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Burgum announced that the Federal Aviation Administration has granted initial temporary approval to allow private-sector partner uAvionix to fly a drone beyond visual line of sight using Vantis, a first-of-its-kind, Grand Forks-based air traffic control network for UAS operations.

“This is a critical step that validates the state's investment and years of work to bring drones to commercial sectors in a safe and economic way,” Burgum said. To build on this momentum, the executive budget proposes a $30 million investment in Vantis and $7 million for the Grand Sky UAS business and aviation park in Grand Forks.

Acknowledging changes

Burgum welcomed newly appointed Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller on her first day in office as she co-presided over the joint session as Senate president.

Miller previously served as CEO of Fargo-based electrical distributor Border States from 2006 until 2020, when she joined the Governor’s Office as chief operating officer. She was appointed lieutenant governor to succeed former Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford after he resigned effective Jan. 2, citing a desire to return to the private sector and focus on his family and career. Burgum thanked both for their dedicated service to the citizens of North Dakota.

He also cited the recently released census estimate that listed North Dakota’s population at a record high 779,261 residents on July 1, 2022, rebounding from a slight dip in 2021’s estimate.

“Our record population speaks to the abundant opportunities and exceptional quality of life we enjoy in North Dakota,” Burgum said, noting the 106,000 residents added since 2010 is the equivalent of adding another Grand Forks and another Minot. North Dakota remains one of the nation’s fastest-growing states – up 16 percent since 2010, faster than all but six other states.