‘Holding the line’ won’t be easy

Hold the line.

That’s the advice North Dakota agency officials recieved from Gov. Jack Dalrymple as they begin work on budgets for the next two-year cycle. The governor said he was “committed to holding the line on ongoing spending, while recognizing that we must also meet the many needs driven by a growing population and the nation’s strongest state economy.”

The obvious question would be, can both of those things actually be accomplished? Can the state?Transporation?Department really hold the line on spending, for instance, and at the same time address the massive and continually growing needs throughout the state that accompany our rapid population growth? Can the budget for the Highway Patrol remain at present levels when there are obvious needs for an even larger trooper presence in western North Dakota?

The other obvious question is, even if it’s possible to hold the line on agency spending, should we do that?

We fully recognize the governor’s intentions: Be good stewards of the public’s money, and make sure the state protects itself financially against any downturn in the booming economy. It’s practical.

But it’s also a complicated message at a time when dollars are flowing into the state’s coffers like Bakken crude flowing from the ground. There are those in the state who believe the state hasn’t done enough to help areas hit hardest by the effects of the massive oil boom, whether it be help for repairing or expanding road systems, or assisting with the growing pains of school districts and municipalities throughout the Bakken region.

Dalrymple certainly left room for the final budget to grow, as it did for the current bienium when it went from the governor’s original outline of $4.2 billion to the current general fund budget of $6.8 billion. We suspect, despite another “hold the line” message from Dalrymple, the next two-year budget will see a similar leap when it becomes final.