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​Legislative leader recaps highlights and lowlights

by Chris Hennen | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | News | May 13th, 2015

Sen. Mac Schneider on this year’s Legislative session

It’s no easy task being the minority in the ND Legislature to a Republican super majority that always seems to get its way -- particularly in the ND House. Couple that with Republican strongholds in statewide offices including the Governor’s office and it’s a wonder Democrats can get any victories during a Legislative session.

However, with so much going on in the state related to the oil boom and so much money coming into the state, how are Republicans handling it? Are they doing what’s best for the state’s future when the oil money may no longer be there? We talked to ND Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) to find out what went wrong and what went right during this year’s Legislative session.

HPR: What do you think are the top two or three opportunities that the majority missed on this session?

Mac Schneider: I think this session will go down as the session the GOP majority cut the oil extraction tax permanently by 23 percent for really no well-developed reason whatsoever. That cut to the extraction tax by any fair measure will cost the people of North Dakota billions of dollars over the next decade and untold billions over the life of the Bakken. The substance is bad, the procedure by which this bill was ramrodded through the Legislature is as bad or worse. The bill was cooked up on a Friday and then passed out by the next Friday. So in less than a natural week, the GOP majority passed out a multibillion dollar tax cut that will negatively affect future generations of North Dakotans. So that’s number one.

No. 2 is a chance to show that North Dakota stands for non-discrimination … that’s not one of our values. We did have success in the Senate passing 2279. Unfortunately that hit a brick wall in the form of the House majority when it was considered in that chamber.

Another missed opportunity would be to more adequately advance early childhood education, specifically pre-kindergarten. Sen. Phil Murphy from our caucus had a bill that would have funded universal access to pre-kindergarten. That failed. There was a bill from the past that provides $3 million worth of early childhood education grants but that’s going to leave thousands of 4-year-olds without access to state funded early childhood education. It doesn’t get too far beyond the status quo.

So those are three. There’s mental health, there’s 30 percent for the production tax for western ND, but you asked for three, I’ll honor that.

HPR: What was done on property tax reform in the session?

MS: When you focus on cutting the oil extraction tax by 23 percent, that really detracts from efforts to permanently reduce property taxes. If you reduce oil extraction tax revenues by 23 percent this biennium through the end of March, that’s $671.6 million dollars in lost revenue that we would’ve experienced under a 23 percent cut to the oil extraction tax. That is a lot for revenue in future biennia that could be used to cut property taxes and do a variety of things. And so North Dakota homeowners certainly aren’t going to see a 23 percent cut to their property taxes but that is exactly the percentage the oil extraction tax was cut.

HPR: How were they able to pass the oil extraction tax cut after crossover? I thought most bills passed one chamber or the other and then are reconciled after crossover. If bills don’t reach that point, I thought they were dead. How were they able to pass something that hadn’t been dealt with before crossover?

MS: That really speaks to the dastardly abuse of process that they engaged in with this bill. They introduced what is called a delayed bill. There’s a special committee called the Delayed Bill Committee … Obviously Rep. Carlson has a majority in the ND House, he’s got a majority in that committee. The Delayed Bills Committee voted to allow the introduction of that bill. It was then heard by the House Finance and Tax Committee on a Monday morning. The full House passed out that bill by supper time that Monday and then it was considered by the Senate Finance and Tax Committee, which amended the bill somewhat and then it ultimately passed the Senate on Thursday evening and then the House concurred with the Senate changes on a Friday. So over the course of a natural week, actually less if you go by the hour, this bill went from not existing to creating a multibillion dollar cut to the oil extraction tax.

HPR: And when you think about all the weeks of debate, testimony and time that went in to allow citizens to weigh in with their legislators on Senate Bill 2279 to eliminate LGBT discrimination ...

MS: Months of consideration. Public testimony for hours and hours on end in both chambers. That is the kind of scrutiny a bill should receive by the Legislature. I disagree with the results but I can scarcely feel cheated by the process when it comes to the non-discrimination bill. Here, this was an absolute abuse of the Legislative majorities the people of North Dakota entrusted Republicans to and the end result is a dramatic and permanent loss of revenue and really a breach of trust to future generations of North Dakotans.

HPR: Is there any small victories or things that you were happy about passing this session?

MS: We were very proud to be part of a bi-partisan effort to combat human trafficking. There really wasn’t any meaningful daylight between Republicans and Democrats on that issue. It was a high profile issue unlike any I’ve ever seen in the ND Legislature. The Attorney General was a significant advocate on this issue. House and Senate Democrats added meaningfully to the comprehensive effort to root out human trafficking. And to their credit, the Republican supermajority provided funding to assist victims of human trafficking. That is truly a bipartisan victory. It’s a moral obligation to root out a crime that heinous from a state like North Dakota.

HPR: Anything else?

MS: There’s various other pieces of Legislation that we’re proud of when it comes to things that make it a little easier for families and working people to breathe easier. For example, House Bill 1244 that was sponsored by Rep. Jessica Haak on the House side. It allows state employees to take maternity or paternity leave in welcoming an adopted child into the family. Give a plug to my mom here, Rep. (Mary) Schneider introduced a bill that protects victims of domestic violence from housing discrimination.

Another bipartisan victory that was just completed at the end of the session, there’s a Senate concurrent resolution 4003 and then a companion Senate bill 2039, which would use part of the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund to create a scholarship endowment and also create a revolving loan school construction fund. That’s something that I’ve long called for. I am not the only one. Sen. Tony Grindberg, former Senator from Fargo, a Republican, and Sen. Tim Flakoll deserve a lot of credit for that as well. But that was a bipartisan effort that really speaks to the long term public policy issue facing our state, which is how do you take this one time harvest of natural resource revenue and make it a permanent investment in our most valuable natural resource, which is our young people. So it’s almost the opposite of the oil extraction tax cut. It’s something that’s going to be there in the long term after the last drop of oil has been extracted from the ground, that scholarship endowment and the revolving loan fund for school construction.

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