Burgum again declines governor's salary, potentially complicating its appropriation by lawmakers

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum speaks during a tribal conference in Bismarck Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. John Hageman / Forum News Service

BISMARCK - Gov. Doug Burgum plans to again decline his salary on a campaign pledge from 2016.

North Dakota lawmakers fretted over how to settle the situation in 2017, as they must appropriate the governor a salary.

“That’s the public policy sadness to me, that it’s misdirected intellectual energy,” said Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, who sat on the conference committee that pondered the governor’s salary in 2017.

The wealthy former software executive ended up donating the salary from his first six months in office to the newly created Office of Recovery Reinvented, while his salary for the current two-year budget cycle will go into the state's general fund on July 1, governor's spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.

For the 2019-21 biennium, Burgum is asking that his salary from July 1, 2019, to Dec. 14, 2020 — about $186,000 — be cut from the budget.

As the last six months of the next biennium are beyond his current term, the governor’s office has asked for about $80,000 in salary.

"The reason why there's money in there for the last portion is because, if he does not choose to run again or become re-elected, there needs to be salary from January to June of that last of the 2021 biennium," said Stephanie Gullickson, a budget analyst with the state Office of Management and Budget.

The budget proposal fulfills Burgum's campaign pledge as "the taxpayers do not have to fund his salary," according to Nowatzki, who added that Burgum receives health coverage but not retirement through the state.

Nowatzki also said Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford is accepting his annual salary of $103,221.

OMB Director Joe Morrissette said his office also applied the same 4 percent and 2 percent raises for 2019-21 to Burgum's salary as proposed for state elected officials in the governor's budget, which also plans for 4 percent raises for state employees during each year of the next biennium.

Lawmakers questioned if Burgum’s pledge may set a precedent for personally wealthy candidates pursuing elected office.

"I'll cut runaway government spending, starting with my own salary, and empower local communities," Burgum said in a 2016 campaign ad. "After all, it's your money, not the government's."

Underwood Republican Rep. Jeff Delzer, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the governor could take his salary to donate to first lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum's addiction initiative, Recovery Reinvented.

"To me, it would make more sense," Delzer said.

Mathern said he'd like the governor to accept his salary and cut a check to charities. Last session's discussion of how to appropriate Burgum's salary was "complicated," he added.

“There are important things going on in our state, and he has important initiatives in his budget," Mathern said. "We should spend our time on that."

Delzer and Mathern said Friday they hadn't yet seen the governor's salary proposal, so discussions remain to be seen.

"Legislators will be talking about it," Mathern said.