As I write this, the results of the 2018 mid-term elections are unknown. I do know two things for sure, however. The first is that ND United staff and our terrific members worked their tails off in support of our endorsed candidates. The second is that as soon as the mid-terms are in our rear-view mirror, we must be laser-focused on the upcoming 66th Legislative Assembly, which convenes in Bismarck on Jan. 3, 2019.There are big challenges facing the Legislature, many of which have a direct bearing on ND United members across the state and doing a variety of jobs.
Here are just some of the issues we’re keeping our eyes on:
Funding. Last session, the Legislature passed a budget that had slashed $1.7 billion from the previous biennium’s budget. To do that, they had to use roughly $800 million from the state’s reserve funds. Despite a slightly improved economic picture, those reserve funds have not been replenished to the extent that would make them helpful. In short, we cannot go to the reserve fund well to make up budgetary shortfalls.
Personnel Cuts: Governor Burgum has asked state agency heads to identify a 5 percent or 10 percent base budget reduction, depending on the size of the agency. He’s also asked them to identify 3 percent more in contingency budget reductions. These agencies may achieve these savings by not filling open positions or by laying people off. Either way, it means that state employees will once again be asked to do more work with less help.
Education Savings Accounts/Vouchers: There will, no doubt, be continued attempts to divert public monies to private schools. The effect will be that public schools will be asked to more with less. We were successful in turning these bad ideas away last session and we will continue to fight these new efforts.
Higher Ed Funding: Higher education was exempted from the requested cuts that the governor has asked of other state agencies. Remember that the horrific cuts that higher ed endured last session resulted in over 600 personnel cuts and programmatic cuts across our institutions of higher education. Each university will have to be extraordinarily creative to ensure that their educational missions are not further curtailed due to cuts in personnel and programs.
Behavioral Health: In listening sessions across the state, I have heard from teachers talk about safety issues in their classes due in part to the dearth of behavioral health services available to the students who need them most. We have had teachers and ESP injured by students who desperately need the services they cannot get. There is bipartisan support for doing the right thing for these students.
Guns in Schools. We fully expect to see yet another bill that would arm teachers, staff, or regular citizens in our schools. The public does not want anyone except licensed law enforcement officers to be armed in our schools. I agree! We have been successful in stopping guns in schools each of the past three sessions, and we will continue to oppose efforts to arm anyone but law enforcement in our schools.
PERS: We know that we will see legislation that would mandate that the state offer only single insurance plans. If a state employee wants to insure her family, she will have to purchase the family plan on her own. It is just mean spirited to subject state employees, who will have gone two years without a salary increase, to pay more for healthcare.
There is more, and you will hear all about it as we approach the legislative session. Please know that your ND United lobby team will be at every committee meeting that will hear legislation with the potential to impact your work. We will be tireless in our advocacy for you.
That said, we will also need your help. Legislators listen to their constituents and that means they will listen to you. Politics is not a spectator sport. There is a role for you to play and that role is that of a Member Activist. Please visit www.ndunited.org and become a member activist. In addition, plan on attending the ND United Advocacy Conference on December 1, 2018 in Bismarck. Visit that same web address for more information.
Thank you for your membership, and thank you in advance for your activism! You are NDU, and together, we can accomplish anything!
- This President’s Post column is written by Nick Archuleta, NDU President.