While other armchair quarterbacks are surveying the work of the 2021 legislative session, the three most significant acts include $700 million in bonding for infrastructure, $70 million for “career academies” to expanded instruction in technical skills and statutory authority for using the $8 billion Legacy Fund for some investing in North Dakota.
The career academies will welcome employees in dying industries, reach for students whose skills don’t fit in the four-year universities, and offer employment opportunities for nonworking adults.
But just offering the classroom or workshop instruction is only half of the job. A number of states are now granting full tuition for certain STEM specialties. The unemployed will need coaches to help work through the pitfalls that have kept them unemployed in the first place.
These will be costly investments but they will reward society for decades just as the G.I. Bill did for America after World War II and following conflicts.
Now that the Legislature has taken a serious look at utilization of the Legacy Fund, perhaps it will be possible to take a broader view of the fund and what it should be doing for the whole citizenry. It doesn’t seem rational that the Legacy Fund should be saved and saved and saved. For what? And when?
The Legacy Fund was earned during the lives of present North Dakotans. While the state needs to be frugal in spending Legacy Fund money, the present generation is as entitled to a share as much as some generations in the future.
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In just about every civic effort, North Dakota ranks toward the bottom. We only make the top ten in windiness.
In addition to investing in solid North Dakota ventures that benefit only the commercial interests, we should beef up the other services that round out quality living in North Dakota, e.g. education, natural resources, recreation, parks, education, rehabilitation, corrections, health care, etc. etc.
Every public service has problems of its own solvable only with additional funding. Face it, we are a cheap state and we like a biennial legislative sessions because the Legislature spends money every day it meets. The middle and upper classes run state policy and their solutions don’t interface very well with people caught below the poverty line.
According to the 2020 U. S. Census, North Dakota’s population is now 780,000. According to the number crunchers, we have 9.2% – close to 80,000 - residents below the poverty line. ( It would be higher but we can thank Gov. Jack Dalrymple for expanding Medicaid for the poor.)
Let’s look at health care, a major concern for thousands of North Dakotans. If we are to believe our health care professionals, North Dakota health care is underfunded.
The State Health Department developed a strategic plan to improve the health and well-being of all North Dakotans. The plan had 26 distinct goals for 2019-2021, all of which are important and could be implemented with more staffing and funding.
Among the prevention and wellness initiatives proposed by the plan were: reducing obesity, reducing tobacco use, reducing causes of injury, reducing alcohol and substance abuse, controlling chronic diseases and developing a statewide blood pressure control program.
All of these objectives require public participation and support, possible only with costly public information campaigns.
Among other objectives were creating sustainable models for delivery of services to rural areas, implementing consistent EMS response systems, developing strategies for long term care, strengthening workforce education, creating incentives for physician retention and a dozen more.
The State Health Improvement Plan tells us that there are so many needs in health care that, using a portion of the Legacy Fund, we should launch a Health Care Marshall Plan that would make lives more healthy and enjoyable for more people in North Dakota.
Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.