Dalrymple: ND 'strong and growing stronger'

Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers must push to improve the state's economy, even though it is already among the strongest in a nation still plagued by job woes, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Tuesday in his first State of the State speech on the Legislature's opening day.

"We are setting our own course and reaping the rewards of our hard work, our careful fiscal management, our pro-business climate and our diversified economy," Dalrymple told a joint session of the state House and Senate. "I am fortunate today to be able to say, with complete confidence, that the state of our state is strong and growing stronger."

Dalrymple spoke less than two hours after the North Dakota Legislature began its 2011 session at noon Tuesday. Last month, he presented lawmakers with a proposed two-year, $9.3 billion budget that legislators will use as a starting point for crafting their own spending plan for state government.

After a decade as lieutenant governor in Gov. John Hoeven's administration, Dalrymple took office Dec. 7 when Hoeven resigned to prepare for his new job as a U.S. senator. Hoeven is being sworn in Wednesday as North Dakota's first Republican senator in 24 years.

Tax collections on oil production have helped to bolster what is expected to be a $1 billion state budget surplus in June. Dalrymple has proposed a number of initiatives, including state money for repairing local roads in western North Dakota's oil-producing region and support for flood-control projects in Fargo and Devils Lake.

Dalrymple renewed his pitch Tuesday for several of his budget ideas, including spending on roads and flood control, a new division in the state Department of Commerce to oversee North Dakota's energy development, a new commission to review the state's higher education finance system, and support to make mental health counseling more widely available in high schools, colleges and Indian reservations, and for returning war veterans.

A "Centers of Excellence" program that offered grants to North Dakota's public colleges will have a renewed focus on supporting entrepreneurship, university research with commercial potential, and job training, the governor said.

Dalrymple, who is a former chairman of the North Dakota Trade Office, said the state's businesses also have "incredible" prospects for doing business overseas.

"This is not a time to slow down," Dalrymple said. "We have the opportunity now to build North Dakota into the very best state that it can possibly be."