In the 2017 State of the State address, Governor Doug Burgum addressed four main topics–two linked specifically to oil and gas. An acute budget shortfall in North Dakota is the first of those concerns, and tribal relations, partly due to the continued disagreement about the Dakota Access Pipeline river crossing near Cannonball is the second.
Yet Burgum’s tone was optimistic and he appeared ready to take on the challenges of leading the state to new economic growth. He called for a more diversification, for North Dakotans to “reinvent state government and embrace technology to hold down costs and build an economy and workforce for the 21st century,” according to the North Dakota Office of the Governor.
The slumping oil and gas industry in addition to lower farm commodity prices that are largely responsible for the revenue shortfall is part of the problem the state faces, but Burgum emphasized that spending needs to come under control. The Office of the Governor brief stated, “The current era of abundant food, energy and information requires a rethinking of existing institutions. Burgum said his administration will take a hard look at state agencies and find efficiencies and savings through cross-cutting initiatives. He hopes to downsize spending without cutting taxes.
Right now is the time to right-size government. To balance our budget without raising taxes. To fund our priorities and do more with less, said Burgum.
Former Gov. Dalrymple’s budget for the 2017-19 biennium was already $1.2 billion less than what the state legislature appropriated during the last session, what Burgum called a “good start.” Where Burgum’s budget cuts will come in, however, is unclear, reports Forum News Service:
“It was pretty general,” said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. “He did say cut (the budget), but I don’t know where.”
As 2016 ended with the temporary camp of Dakota Access pipeline protesters still alive and strong, Burgum did take a moment to discuss the pipeline and the controversy over its completion. The Office of the Governor brief said Burgum spoke about of “impending damage to the environment and potential danger to protesters and first responders if Dakota Access pipeline opponents don’t vacate the main camp in southern Morton County before a likely flood hits in March.” Burgum said:
Chairman Dave Archambault from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has repeatedly asked for the remaining protesters to leave. We unequivocally support him in this request.
The new governor wants the year to start on fresh footing, with a goal to understand each tribe’s individual issues and circumstances and “move forward toward greater mutual respect, harmony and prosperity.”
Yet, Burgum implied the pipeline will likely be completed, as Burgum also reminded protesters that property rights, court orders and law enforcement must also be respected, and vandalism, harassment and trespass are not a part of North Dakota’s character and will not be tolerated.
Burgum also addressed addiction treatment and education as priorities for North Dakota.