North Dakota plan to spend hundreds of millions in federal coronavirus aid on verge of passing – INFORUM

BISMARCK A plan to spend nearly all of North Dakota's hundreds of millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid cleared the House chamber on Thursday evening, Nov. 11, all but finalizing state investments in an array of one-time infrastructure, energy, health care and higher education projects.

The appropriations for North Dakota's total $1 billion out of the American Rescue Plan Act was split between two bills for the Legislature's special session, with one proposal outlining $571 million in new project investments passing the House by a 79-14 vote on Thursday night. The bill has already gone through the Senate once and is expected to receive concurrence from the upper chamber on Friday.

That move would finalize the Legislature's plans to invest all but about $63 million of the federal aid package, leaving the untouched portion for next session.

North Dakota has until 2026 to burn through all of its American Rescue Plan funds, but Gov. Doug Burgum and top Republican lawmakers pushed to spend the money quickly rather than allow it to sit through a period of rising inflation.

Legislative budget writers mapped out a spending plan for the money over a series of October meetings leading up to this weeks special session. The House and Senate Appropriations committees fielded pitches for how to spend the money from lawmakers and state agencies that clocked in at over $9 billion dollars, with most projects missing the cut for funding.

Several hundred million of the total $1 billion would go towards fulfilling appropriations made during the legislative session earlier this year. The bill outlining those appropriations passed the House on Thursday in an 83-10 vote after getting unanimous approval in the Senate earlier in the day. Both American Rescue Plan bills will also need signatures from Burgum.

The single largest item in the spending plan would put $150 million in starter funding towards a trans-state pipeline to deliver natural gas from the Bakken oil fields to eastern North Dakota. That proposal has the backing of Burgum, who has pushed for the pipeline to help preserve North Dakotas oil output and to attract industrial businesses in need of natural gas hook-ups to the eastern part of the state.

Many details about the pipeline are still being hashed out, but its route would run from the western North Dakota Oil Patch to Grand Forks. The plan is intended to attract major agribusiness investments to the east, including a $750 million wet corn mill whose commitment to Grand Forks is contingent on access to more natural gas. State officials have said that the mill's alternative is in Iowa, which already draws on Bakken natural gas.

Other big-ticket items include $75 million for water infrastructure, over $25 million for long-term care facilities and tens of millions of dollars for higher education renovations. The package would also put an extra injection of $20 million into a newly created state fund aimed at financing low-emissions energy projects, to be used as grants for hydrogen projects.

The allocations of the federal coronavirus aid have found broad support in the Republican-dominated Legislature, though they have drawn some push-back from several lawmakers skeptical of the big spending plan and others who suggested that some money could have gone to small businesses or critical-access hospitals. On the Senate side earlier this week, a last-minute attempt to axe more than $100 million in higher education funding projects from the bill failed on the floor.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.

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North Dakota plan to spend hundreds of millions in federal coronavirus aid on verge of passing - INFORUM

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