Gov. Doug Burgum’s 2021 State of the State Address reflected on the progress and challenges of the past year while calling for investments in infrastructure to strengthen the state’s future.
Burgum addressed a joint session of the 67th Legislative Assembly on the first day of its biennial session, Tuesday, Jan. 5, and commented on how North Dakotans have experienced much this past year, citing “a flock of black swan events” that included flooding, drought, the COVID-19 pandemic, market crashes and major economic contractions.
“These have tested us in ways that we could not have expected,” Burgum said. “Yet, as we look forward together to the 2021 to 23 biennium, it is clear that our state is well-positioned to rebound and recover, thanks to the courage, the grit, the ingenuity and the resiliency of North Dakotans. Today, the State of the State is one of optimism and new beginnings, built on the confidence of overcoming adversity and the knowledge that we will emerge stronger than ever.”
Burgum went on to thank the efforts of those who have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic, including front-line health care workers, first responders, and educators.
“Today we pause for reflection in the midst of a fight that is not yet over, but one in which we are gaining positive ground and making significant progress daily,” he said. “As often happens in an emergency, heroes emerge from the crisis. And we’ve had no shortage of heroes in North Dakota in 2020.”
Burgum highlighted the state’s continued growth, stating that the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual estimate released last week listed North Dakota’s population at a record 765,309 as of July 1. He added that the state expects to receive its official 2020 decennial census count in the spring.
Burgum emphasized that with interest rates at historic lows, the opportunity to bond for roads, bridges, career and technical education centers, and other one-time infrastructure projects, as well as creating a $700 million revolving loan fund to provide low-cost financing for current and future projects. Burgum added that the $1.25 billion bonding proposal would not raise taxes or rely on tax revenues to retire the bonds, instead using a portion of earnings from the state’s Legacy Fund.
“We have a historic opportunity to invest in infrastructure, diversify the economy, build healthy, vibrant communities, support research and innovation, transform government and build true legacy projects for the prosperity of North Dakotans for generations to come,” Burgum explained. “We can set our state on a positive trajectory by leveraging the ingenuity and resources of the private sector and harnessing the power of the Legacy Fund. And we can accomplish all of this with a fiscally conservative state budget that holds the line on general fund spending, invests in our priorities and maintains healthy reserves, all without raising taxes.”
In the education sector, Burgum asked the Legislature, North Dakota University System, and State Board of Higher Education to join in a study and development of a permanent Higher Education Stabilization and Transformation Fund for North Dakota Public Institutions, with the goal of initiation and implementation by 2024.
“This fund should be used to stabilize higher education funding, finding ways to drive growth and incentivize increased public-private partnerships and investment in 21st century education models,” Burgum said.
The governor commented on his optimism for state’s agriculture and energy sectors and the need to support the state’s “all-of-the-above” approach to energy development, which embraces oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, bio-fuels, wind and solar energy. North Dakota ranks sixth in total energy production for the nation.
He proposed additional investments in behavioral health services and upgrading information technology systems, highlighted investment and growth in the state’s Unmanned Aerial Systems industry and advocated for the development of more economically sound cities that maximize the use of existing infrastructure to create healthy, vibrant communities as well as limit property tax growth.
He applauded the state’s tourism sector, as well as promoting the state’s quality of life. He noted that North Dakota was ranked number one in air and water quality, third in best places to raise a family and the state also received top five rankings in infrastructure and the best state for millennials.
“All of this adds up to North Dakota being a great place to live, work and raise a family,” he stated. “Which we all know, and many national scorecards have affirmed in this past year.”
Burgum commented that growth in the state’s biotech sector is “incredible,” and noted the role that Fargo-based biotech company Aldevron has played in the vaccine development. Burgum took time to recognize special guests founding CEO and Executive Chairman Michael Chambers, current CEO Kevin Ballinger, Senior Manager of Client Relations Matt Krusen and Technical Operations Manager Angelica Meyer.
“Fortunately, we have new tools at our disposal to fight COVID, with effective vaccines, rapid tests that help screen out asymptomatic positives and break the chain of transmission, and effective therapeutics that can drastically improve survival rates when administered at the right time,” Burgum said. “This battle is far from over. But we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ve got the tools to get us there.”
The governor also recognized special guest Mandy Holte, whose late husband, Grand Forks Police Officer and North Dakota National Guard 1st Lt. Cody Holte, was killed in the line of duty on May 27, 2020, while responding to a shooting incident.
“Officer Holte selflessly dedicated his life to protecting his community, his state and his country,” Burgum said, addressing Holte’s family,, “Cody’s legacy of service will live on forever in the hearts and minds of North Dakotans, and they have our everlasting support and deepest gratitude for his incredible ultimate sacrifice. ”
Burgum shared his love for the state, speaking of the gratitude and pride he has for North Dakota and the people in it. He spoke for the hopes for the coming year, stating the a brighter future is what all North Dakotans should strive for, not just for themselves, but for future generations. His voice full of emotion, Burgum concluded his address with a message of hope for the coming year.
“Everyone who’s spent a winter in North Dakota knows that feeling on that first, bright, warm, snow-melting day of spring. That feeling where the sun hits your face, and the angle of the sun is high, and it just feels different.” he said. “And you know that brighter, warmer days are ahead. Let us look to our abundant future, and fill it not just with economic prosperity, but also with the joy and happiness that comes from our hearts. Let us stand together as North Dakotans, united in commitment to respect one another, to be compassionate to one another and to love one another.”