Burgum tackles challenges, makes progress on key initiatives during first year in office

Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 3:00pm

BISMARCK, N.D. – Gov. Doug Burgum on Friday, Dec. 15, will mark the one-year anniversary of being sworn into office with Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, reflecting on a number of accomplishments and substantial progress on key initiatives aimed at improving the lives and economic success of all North Dakotans.

“As we reflect on our first year in office, Kathryn and I remain deeply grateful for the opportunity to make a positive impact every day on the lives of citizens across our great state,” Burgum said.

The Burgum administration has laid the foundation for making state government more efficient and responsive to taxpayers through five strategic initiatives identified by the governor: reinventing government, the Main Street Initiative, transforming education, tribal partnerships and behavioral health, including recovery from the disease of addiction.

In addition, several challenges demanded the governor’s immediate attention during the past year. Burgum responded by:

  • Taking a proactive, fully engaged approach during his first 2½ months in office to peacefully resolve the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, a particularly tense situation that ended with thousands leaving or being cleared from the protest camps with no fatalities. The pipeline was completed and now safely transports one-third of North Dakota’s daily oil output to market. It also has significantly reduced the oil price discount on Bakken crude, meaning greater returns to North Dakota producers, mineral owners and an increase in state revenue of about $6 million per month, or more than $70 million per year. A new state website, www.ndresponse.gov, also was launched as a one-stop shop for timely information on disaster and emergency response activities. The governor also hosted a pipeline summit to discuss best practices and latest technologies for transporting crude oil and produced water and to improve monitoring, leak detection and communication of spills.
  • Working with the Legislature to offset a massive revenue shortfall caused largely by low oil and farm commodity prices. The governor signed legislation reducing the state’s $6 billion general fund budget by $1.7 billion while still providing permanent property tax relief, fully funding K-12 education and using innovative approaches to support other priorities.
  • Activating the State Emergency Operations Plan and signing 10 executive orders to help livestock producers manage extreme and exceptional drought conditions, including waiving hauling permit fees, hours of service and distance limits for farm vehicles transporting livestock, hay and water. Burgum and state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring held drought information meetings in five communities and worked with the State Water Commission and Emergency Commission, both of which the governor chairs, to make emergency funding available for livestock water supply projects and hay transportation assistance.
  • Forming the Fargo-Moorhead Area Flood Diversion Task Force with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to give the stalled project a potential path forward and protect the state’s largest metro area and economic engine from catastrophic flooding. The group of 16 citizens appointed by the two governors held its final meeting Monday and will present its report to the F-M Diversion Authority in the coming weeks.

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

  • Visiting dozens of cities across the state, including attending 11 community discussions on the Main Street Initiative, to listen and gather information to help create a dashboard with metrics for communities to evaluate themselves and identify steps to becoming more vibrant, healthy communities that will attract a skilled workforce to fill the state’s nearly 13,000 job openings. A website, wwwMainStreetND.com, was launched as a contact point and information resource. A Main Street Initiative Summit is scheduled for Feb. 12-13 in Bismarck.
  • Signing justice reinvestment legislation and additional bills that together form a comprehensive plan for supporting those who suffer from behavioral health issues and substance abuse, while substantially reducing corrections costs and moving $7 million upstream to improve access to effective, community-based treatment.
  • Hosting Recovery Reinvented with First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum in September. The event gathered national speakers and more than 800 people to discuss the need to eliminate the shame and stigma of addiction and find innovative approaches to addiction treatment and recovery. Life-saving doses of Naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, also were distributed. More information is available at www.recoveryreinvented.com.
  • Launching 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.
  • Appointing a 15-member Innovative Education Task Force to create a system for identifying and supporting schools and districts implementing innovative practices, building on the passage of Senate Bill 2186. Members are tasked with providing direction on how state government can empower districts to adopt student-centric learning practices designed to support a 21st century economy impacted by rapid technological change. An Innovative Education Summit drew more than 400 educators and other stakeholders to Bismarck in June. Since then, the website www.NDPlaylist.org has been launched to help schools create a culture of innovation, and there’s a grassroots movement using #InnovativeND on social media. The governor has challenged schools to submit at least 20 SB2186 innovative education plans by the 2018 school year.
  • Signing an executive order creating a Higher Education Governance Task Force to assess the existing governance structure for higher education in North Dakota and determine whether changes are needed to ensure the system meets the state’s educational and workforce needs in the 21st century. The governor received 235 applications to serve on the task force and plans to announce the selected members soon.
  • Supporting and signing Senate Bill 2206, which transferred the funding responsibility for social services from counties to the state during a two-year pilot program, creating $161 million in permanent property tax relief while repealing an unsustainable 12 percent state-paid property tax buydown program. The bill also directed the Department of Human Services to develop a plan to look at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of how social services are delivered to clients.
  • Meeting with tribal leadership from every American Indian tribe headquartered in North Dakota and continuing to identify areas of opportunity for government-to-government collaboration on issues ranging from water rights, taxes, emergency management and law enforcement to addiction, infrastructure, historic sites and tourism. A two-day session titled “Understanding Tribal, State and Federal Relations,” being hosted by the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission, is set for Jan. 30–31, 2018.

North Dakota interests and priorities also were advanced through efforts by Gov. Burgum and Lt. Gov. Sanford to build a strong relationship with the White House and Cabinet officials:

  • The governor was honored to host President Donald Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn in early September. Burgum joined the President in calling for major tax reform to ease the burden on hardworking Americans and help spur business investment and job creation.
  • In October, Burgum joined Vice President Mike Pence and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson at the Minot Air Force Base, where the governor emphasized the importance of the base’s dual nuclear mission to the nation’s defense strategy.
  • The governor and first lady met multiple times with Acting Director Rich Baum of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to look at innovative ways to address addiction recovery and the opioid epidemic in the U.S.
  • During a visit by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to the Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, Burgum announced the creation of the UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force, and he continues to support state investment in UAS, which totals over $48 million to date. Chao’s visit led to an invitation for Burgum and Sanford to attend the White House infrastructure summit in June.
  • Burgum and Sanford have met with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who visited eastern North Dakota in August, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in Washington, D.C., on policy priorities that affect water, land and mineral rights decisions in North Dakota. Zinke appointed Sanford and North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms to Interior’s Royalty Policy Committee.
  • Burgum met multiple times with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, advocating and expressing gratitude for federal drought relief assistance that Perdue authorized with incredible responsiveness, and also met with U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta.

The governor also is taking meaningful steps to transform the culture of state government, starting with a comprehensive survey of state employees. Nearly 4,000 team members completed the survey – a response rate of 61 percent – creating an opportunity to share best practices, identify areas for improvement and continue to build on a foundational culture of service. Burgum said the survey results will be incorporated into overall efforts to reinvent government as the administration enters its second year.

“The future of North Dakota is bright, and our commitment to creating a more efficient and responsive state government grows stronger every day,” Burgum said. “We look forward to building on the progress of the past year to make North Dakota a more attractive, affordable and enjoyable place to live.”