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ND Public Employees Push for Responsible Budget Cuts

As the state grapples with a budget shortfall, North Dakota public employees are asking state agencies to consider other options before cutting salaries or jobs. (iStockphoto)
As the state grapples with a budget shortfall, North Dakota public employees are asking state agencies to consider other options before cutting salaries or jobs. (iStockphoto)
February 3, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - With North Dakota facing steep budget cuts, one of the state's largest public-employee groups is asking state agencies to make careful choices. Governor Jack Dalrymple has ordered that agencies cut more than 4 percent from their operating budgets to help fill a $1 billion shortfall due to a declining oil industry.

Nick Archuleta, president of North Dakota United, says he understands the governor's move, but is urging agencies to consider "unnecessary" spending before slashing public employees' promised salary increases or positions.

"We would prefer that these cuts be made in areas like travel, and putting a moratorium on new projects that they haven't started yet, and leaving some vacant positions vacant," he says.

The governor's plan also includes using close to $500 million from North Dakota's rainy-day fund to cover the budget gap. State agencies have about two weeks to submit their proposed cuts.

The budget-tightening comes at a time when North Dakota faces its highest number of unfilled teacher positions in about a decade. Among other public employees, Archuleta's group represents thousands of teachers. He says while there are currently no plans for mass layoffs in the public sector, if job cuts do eventually come, it could make these positions harder to fill in the future.

"If it looks as if these jobs are only going to exist at the whim of agency heads, who might cut them at the first chance of a poor economy, then we're really looking at hampering our ability to employ quality people in the public sector," says Archuleta.

North Dakota's elementary and high schools are not expected to be hit by the cuts, as those budgets will be covered by separate, special funding.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND