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N.D. Democrats pledge to invest in our families and communities

As North Dakota's Democratic-NPL leadership, we feel the need to respond to the governor's executive budget proposal which was unveiled Wednesday (Dec. 6).

As North Dakota's Democratic-NPL leadership, we feel the need to respond to the governor's executive budget proposal which was unveiled Wednesday (Dec. 6).

First, it is a step in the right direction. Many of the issues we have been fighting for were addressed, but there are some big differences between the Republican plan proposed by the governor and our "Investing in North Dakota" plan.

It's curious that the dollar amounts between the Republican plan for K-12 funding/property tax relief and our plan are very similar. The governor has proposed

$200 million, and we have proposed $190 million.

The big difference is he is proposing only 40 percent of the $200 million for K-12 education. We don't see that as much of an investment to ensure long-term adequacy and equity for K-12 education funding. The Republican plan amounts to only $80 million over two years. Our plan calls for a 100 percent investment - all $190 million dollars over two years.

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On top of that, his property tax plan is a one-time rebate back to the districts. It's not a long-term solution. We feel by investing 100 percent in K-12 education, we will be truly relieving the pressure on local school districts. After all, it has been the lack of state funding that has driven local districts to raise your property taxes.

As we move forward with this facet of our "Investing in North Dakota" plan, we will look to set guidelines and certain conditions to ensure there is adequacy and equity with K-12 funding and property tax relief. We understand these guidelines and conditions are necessary to guarantee that property owners and renters get a break.

We also need to look at an across-the-board tuition freeze. We need to be investing in our students, because they are the future of this state. Tuition has gone up nearly 50 percent at many universities across the state in the last 5 years. In order to keep young people from leaving our state to attend other universities, we must invest in their future here.

Furthermore, leaders in Minnesota and Montana have proposals for tuition relief on the table. We need to also take this into account because if enacted, these proposals would possibly affect the attendance of out-of-state students to North Dakota universities. We are already experiencing a shortage of students at our universities. We can't allow for additional shortfalls.

We agree with the governor that more can be done to bolster renewable energy production. However, we feel his plan does not do enough. We need to do more. Under the governor and the Republican-held Legislature, we have been moving at a snail's pace compared to other states in renewable energy production. Democrats will push for more investments in this area in the upcoming session. It's an area that is crucial to the future of North Dakota.

As your Democratic-NPL leaders, we look forward to representing the best interests of North Dakotans in this upcoming legislative session. Our "Investing in North Dakota" plan is a positive venture in the future of North Dakota by strengthening families and communities. It's an investment we know will pay off years down the road.

O'Connell, D-Lansford, N.D., is Senate minority leader;

Boucher, D-Rolette, N.D., is House minority leader.

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