Monday, December 17, 2018 - 03:00pm

BISMARCK, N.D. – Saturday marked the two-year anniversary of Gov. Doug Burgum being sworn into office alongside Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, giving the governor a chance to reflect on the substantial progress made toward fulfilling the administration’s purpose for state government: to empower people, improve lives and inspire success.

“We remain deeply grateful for this opportunity and are more committed than ever to serving the citizens of this great state,” Burgum said.

Throughout 2018, the Burgum administration has continued to drive progress on the governor’s five strategic initiatives: the Main Street Initiative, Behavioral Health and Addiction, Transforming Education, Tribal Partnerships and Reinventing Government – pushing state government to become more efficient and responsive to taxpayers.

Burgum began 2018 by deciding to move the State of the State address to a different city outside of Bismarck in even-numbered years, starting with Minot State University. The governor emphasized his optimism in the people and future of North Dakota, saying, “The state of the state is one of unlimited promise and potential, provided we embrace change, diversify our economy and harness the unstoppable forces of technology.”

Challenges met

The year began with great optimism but also brought challenges – namely crafting a balanced budget one year after reducing the state’s general fund by an unprecedented $1.7 billion, or 28 percent, and addressing the state’s workforce shortage.

Burgum responded by announcing a new approach to the budgeting process in April, resulting in 57 strategy review sessions with agencies and institutions to find efficiencies, reinvent processes and encourage greater collaboration. Burgum asked agencies to submit base budget requests with reductions of 5 percent or 10 percent depending on agency size, and to reduce FTE levels by 5 percent.

The strategy review process identified more than $107 million in general fund savings, and $101 million was strategically reprioritized for new and ongoing initiatives.

The governor presented his 2019-2021 Executive Budget to the Legislature on Dec. 5, delivering a plan that creates structural balance, improves transparency and replenishes reserves without any tax increases while also making significant investments in infrastructure, education, behavioral health, team member compensation, legacy projects and other priorities.  

Burgum also revitalized the state’s Workforce Development Council and commissioned a statewide employer survey to identify barriers to filling the state’s estimated 30,000 job openings. As a result, the council developed an extensive report with a number of recommendations, several of which are funded in the governor’s budget proposal – including $30 million for career academies to help move North Dakota youth into the workforce and lower the cost of college.

While addressing these challenges, the governor also made significant progress on his five strategic initiatives by:

Main Street Initiative

  • Hosting, with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the first-ever Main Street ND Summit at the Bismarck Event Center, welcoming more than 650 community members, students and state team members. Attendees learned about strategies and resources to address the three pillars of the Main Street Initiative: a skilled workforce; smart, efficient infrastructure; and healthy, vibrant communities to help North Dakota compete in a 21st century economy. 
  • Growing the number of communities engaged in the Main Street Initiative to 61 this year, representing 69 percent of North Dakota’s population. The multi-agency team that developed the Main Street Dashboard also won a national Government Experience Award from the Center for Digital Government.
  • Expanding community development programs aimed at improving main streets, public facilities, and streets. More than $2.3 million in Community Development Block Grant funds were made available for these programs with the aid of the Commerce Department. He also authorized North Dakota to participate in newly created Opportunity Zones Program, a community development incentive established by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Twenty-five areas in North Dakota received the Opportunity Zone designation.

Behavioral Health and Addiction

  • Creating the Office of Recovery Reinvented to promote efforts to eliminate the shame and stigma surrounding addiction. The Office of Recovery Reinvented is guided by a seven-member advisory board chaired by First Lady Kathryn Burgum and including individuals in recovery, behavioral health professionals and community and tribal leaders. More than 1,200 people attended the 2018 Recovery Reinvented summit in person or online in October.
  • Implementing Free Through Recovery, a community-based behavioral health program designed to assist individuals involved with the criminal justice system. Participants in the program have access to care coordination, recovery services and peer support. The program, first signed into law in 2017, is a partnership between the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Department of Human Services and has already provided services to more than 500 people.
  • Completing the North Dakota Behavioral Health System Study in partnership with the Human Services Research Institute. This in-depth review of North Dakota’s behavioral health system is designed to develop a comprehensive implementation plan and identify areas for investment in behavioral health. The study and its full list of recommendations can be found here.

Transforming Education

  • Leading the governor’s 15-member Task Force for Higher Education Governance. After months of thoughtful study and review, the task force recommended the state adopt a three-board governance model for the state’s 11 public colleges and universities as an improvement to the current single-board model. The administration plans to work with lawmakers to advance the recommendation in the Legislature and ultimately bring the proposal to North Dakota voters as a constitutional amendment.
  • Concluding the work of the 15-member Innovative Education Task Force, which met 10 times over the course of 14 months, visiting schools from across the state and beyond to solicit input from educators. A final report with policy recommendations will be released by the end of the year.
  • Supporting the establishment of the K-12 Innovation Academy. Led by retired Superintendent David Flowers and supported by the Department of Public Instruction, the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders and private philanthropy, the academy works to provide participants concrete strategies to transform education and create a statewide network dedicated to the advancement of best practices and community-derived initiatives.

Reinventing Government

  • Fulfilling the administration’s goal to use technology to boost transparency. The state Office of Management and Budget (OMB) completed a major upgrade to the transparency section of its website, creating a more user-friendly experience for citizens searching for budget data, vendor contracts, fund balances and other financial information about state government.
  • Fulfilling another pledge by taking several steps to improve the state’s revenue forecasting system, making it more accurate and ensuring taxpayer resources are being used most efficiently.
  • Continuing to drive a “work as one” culture in state government through human resources unification and streamlining HR policies; more robust leadership training and team member development opportunities; and greater cross-agency and cross-branch collaboration through regular XCL (Extended Cabinet Leadership) and JEL (Judicial, Executive, Legislative) meetings.
  • Supporting the K-20W “Every Student, Every Class, Cyber Educated” initiative, a multi-faceted, comprehensive approach to computer science and cybersecurity education and workforce training. North Dakota will be the first state in the nation with integrated cybersecurity and computer science K-12 standards.
  • Announcing a 100-gigabit upgrade to the state network that will put North Dakota schools and government on the leading edge of internet connectivity and speed. When finished in 2019, this upgrade will ensure that North Dakota is the first state to achieve 1-gigabit connectivity to every school district in the state.
  • Launching Vision Zero as the state’s primary traffic safety initiative with the state Department of Transportation, Highway Patrol and Department of Health. The goal of the comprehensive effort is to continually work toward zero motor vehicle fatalities and serious injuries on North Dakota roads.
  • Advancing an information technology (IT) unification effort to boost capabilities and collaboration between teams toward a singular strategy and goal of better serving the citizens of North Dakota through world-class IT.

Tribal Partnerships

  • Expanding opportunities for communication and collaboration with North Dakota’s native tribes. Hosted by the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, more than 300 people attended a historic two-day conference last January on strengthening government-to-government partnerships and relationships. A second conference will be held Dec. 19-20. These events will help to address issues between state and tribal governance and promote strong relationships among the participants.
  • Chairing the interim Tribal Taxation Issues Committee, which wrapped up its work in October by discussing two draft bills expected to be introduced this upcoming session. One would give the governor authority to enter into separate agreements with individual tribes to administer sales and use taxes, while the other would provide the same authority to enter agreements with tribes for wholesale taxes on alcohol and tobacco. Sanford also served on the committee.

Burgum and Sanford continued to appreciate extraordinary access to federal officials, using this access to build and maintain strong relationships with White House and Cabinet officials.

  • Burgum joined President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and governors from across the nation for a discussion on shared federal-state priorities in February. Topics included infrastructure, workforce development, the opioid epidemic and school safety.
  • Burgum welcomed Pence to Fargo in March, the vice president’s second visit to the state in his first 14 months in office. While in Fargo, Pence highlighted the positive effects of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and Burgum looked forward to partnering with the Trump administration in future efforts.
  • The governor thanked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for making North Dakota the first state to receive final approval to regulate geologic storage of carbon dioxide.
  • Burgum met with President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in April to discuss trade and agricultural issues alongside other governors and congressional leaders. At the meeting, the governor emphasized the importance of a strong farm bill and appreciated the President’s willingness to work on a path forward for the Renewable Fuel Standard and supporting the biofuels industry. Later in the year, the Trump administration issued a directive to allow the sale of E15 year-round.
  • After proactively addressing drought last year, Burgum thanked Perdue during his visit to North Dakota in March for his aid during the 2017 drought. Last week, Burgum, as vice chair of the Western Governors’ Association, signed a memorandum of understanding with Perdue to cooperatively address land management challenges.
  • Burgum continued to help North Dakota position itself as a leader in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) technology, research and development, welcoming U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s selection of North Dakota as one of 10 sites nationwide for the UAS Integration Pilot Program. The North Dakota Department of Transportation, which is leading the pilot program in conjunction with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks and other partners, successfully completed a test flight of UAS aircraft over a group of people in controlled airspace in Fargo. The Grand Sky technology park also launched a historic trans-Atlantic UAS flight in July. This year also saw the first beyond-visual-line-of-sight flight in controlled airspace at Grand Sky.
  • Gov. Burgum advocated for prison reform with President Donald J. Trump and other federal officials in August. North Dakota’s efforts to reform their corrections system has gained national attention for reducing recidivism and building stronger communities.
  • With an all-of-the-above approach to energy development and the Burgum-Sanford administration’s emphasis on “innovation, not regulation,” the state’s energy industry continued to thrive, setting records for oil and gas production. Burgum welcomed U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to the state in August, highlighting how innovation is providing a path forward for North Dakota’s lignite coal as a low-cost, reliable source of electricity for the nation’s power grid.
  • Gov. Burgum continued to support efforts to secure permitting and funding for the Fargo-Moorhead Area Diversion Project, building on the work of the task force he formed last year with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to address concerns about the stalled project. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is now considering a revised permit application.
  • Kathryn Burgum was invited to and attended a White House Women’s Event, where she met with prominent women within the Trump administration and state government. The first lady used the platform to share her experience fighting the disease of addiction and the opioid epidemic. She’s continued to advocate for these issues at the national, state and local levels and has won a national award for her work.

“With the experiences of the past two years and a vision for the future, Lt. Gov. Sanford, Kathryn and I look forward to continuing the growth and innovation that will empower people, improve lives and inspire success for all North Dakotans,” Burgum said.

Burgum will deliver his third State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislative Assembly at 1 p.m. Jan. 3 in the House of Representatives chamber at the Capitol.