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Buyouts offered to employees at 10 state agencies to offset ND budget cuts

BISMARCK—Ten North Dakota state agencies are offering buyouts to their employees due to continued budget cuts.

A letter sent by participating agency heads Tuesday, April 4, announcing the "voluntary separation incentive program" cites a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall in the current two-year funding cycle that has already prompted budget cuts and workforce reductions.

"With the legislative session now in its final month, additional steps will be needed to balance the budget for this biennium and the next, and we anticipate further (full-time equivalent employee) cuts," the draft letter, provided by Gov. Doug Burgum's spokesman Mike Nowatzki, states.

Participating agencies are "hoping to limit the number of non-voluntary reductions that may be necessary," according to the letter. Nowatzki said there's no target for the amount of buyouts the agencies are seeking.

Ten of the 17 executive-level agencies are offering the buyouts, Nowatzki said, along with the governor's office. They are:

• Office of Management and Budget

• Department of Financial Institutions

• Department of Health, except for the Environmental Health Section

• Department of Human Services

• Securities Department

• Workforce Safety and Insurance

• Highway Patrol

• Adjutant General

• Department of Commerce

• Parks and Recreation Department

Those 10 agencies and the governor's office have about 3,600 of the 6,300 FTE positions across the executive agencies, Nowatzki said. Employees were asked to share their interest in a buyout by May 22.

Employees have the choice of receiving a lump sum equal to three months' salary and payment equal to three months of health insurance, remaining on the payroll for three months after the "separation date" and receiving salary and benefits as if they were working during that time, or receiving health insurance for a year after the buyout date with the full premium paid by the agency.

Participating agencies have to find money within their budgets for the buyouts, Nowatzki said. Temporary or probationary employees are not eligible, according to the letter.

Nick Archuleta, president of the union for public employees and teachers North Dakota United, said he was a "little surprised" by the announcement, although he appreciated the state trying to create a softer landing for some employees.

"It drives the point home that there will be fewer public employees, one way or another," he said.

North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota have both offered buyouts in recent months due to the state's budget woes.

State lawmakers are in the closing weeks of the 2017 session as they look to balance the state's books on reduced tax revenue. Lawmakers approved a forecast last month that predicts a roughly $103 million general fund revenue shortfall in the biennium that begins in July.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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