N.D. minority leader says Stenehjem’s death “will leave a great void”

BISMARCK–Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor released the following statement this morning in regard to the death of Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem:

“I was shocked and saddened when I received the call last night from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem informing me of the tragic car accident in Alaska that took the life of his brother, majority leader Sen. Bob Stenehjem, my counterpart and colleague in the North Dakota Senate.

“I extend my deepest condolences to the entire Stenehjem family, especially Bob’s wife, Kathy, and pray for healing in their time of loss.

“I appreciated Bob’s service to the state of North Dakota and enjoyed the working relationship we had as senate leaders. He was a man of his word and he worked very hard for his caucus and the entire legislature in his job as majority leader. His passing will leave a great void in the halls of the Capitol.

“We could put our differences aside and find the common threads that hold us together as North Dakotans working towards a better future. We could visit about making hay, or hunting and fishing, or he could laugh and tease my kids when they’d visit me in the senate. Because of the kind of person he was, we could cultivate a relationship that reached beyond the aisle separating our two parties in the senate chamber.

“He’ll be missed by the many of us who knew him and had the pleasure of working with him in Bismarck.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., released the following statement:

“Lucy and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Bob Stenehjem. He was a dedicated public servant and fought tirelessly for the people of North Dakota. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bob’s wife Kathy, their children, and the entire Stenehjem family during this difficult time.”

Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D.,  former majority leader of the North Dakota House, released the following statement:

“Bob was a good friend and a dear colleague, and I will miss him very much.  He was also a respected leader who loved North Dakota and serving the people of our state and he was greatly valued by those who were able to work alongside him.  Tracy and I are deeply saddened to hear of Bob’s death, and we will keep Bob’s wife Kathy and the entire Stenehjem family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Napolitano plans to visit Minot on Wednesday

BISMARCK–U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano plans to visit Minot and surrounding areas on Wednesday for an aerial tour of flooding and to meet with local, state and federal officials, the Governor’s Office announced late Friday.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said it’s good news that Napolitano will see for herself the extent of flood damage along the Mouse River.

“I’m anxious to show her just how significant the damages are and to discuss the impacts of other disasters in our state and how important it is for us to receive adequate assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” he said in a statement.

More than 11,000 Minot residents evacuated from their homes last month to escape record-setting flooding that impacted 4,100 structures. Flooding affected one-fourth of the state’s fourth-largest city.

Dalrymple and the state’s congressional delegation are encouraging Napolitano to expand her visit to include a tour of flooding in the Bismarck-Mandan area and in the Devils Lake Basin, a news release said.

Major flooding also has caused extensive damage to property along the Missouri River where about 900 residences have been evacuated, the release said. In the Devils Lake Basin, hundreds of structures are flooded and an estimated 30,000 additional acres of farmland have been swallowed up by the rising lake since this spring.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said they’re grateful Napolitano accepted their invitation, and they will continue working with her to ensure resources and assistance are available to flood-impacted communities.

No report or photograph has the same impact as seeing the water first hand, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., agreed.

“As we continue to work together, it is important for Secretary Napolitano to see the devastation first hand, meet with local leaders on the ground, as well as taking the time to visit with those most affected,” Berg said in a statement. “North Dakotans need to know that when the water recedes, we will be there to help, we will be there to clean, and we will be there to ensure a strong recovery.”

Heitkamp refutes ‘pay to play’ claim

BISMARCK – Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp’s connection with a federal judicial nominee was used by Republicans this week to oppose his nomination.

As part of their opposition to the Rhode Island nominee who was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, Republicans spoke out against campaign contributions that Jack McConnell Jr. gave Heitkamp during the Democrat’s 2000 race for North Dakota governor and his part as a special assistant in the state’s tobacco lawsuit.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and other conservatives have referred to the working relationship between Heitkamp and McConnell as “pay to play.”

Heitkamp called Cornyn’s comments “incorrect and irresponsible” and said she found it “appalling” that a U.S. senator “would know so little about the facts.”

“He should know better. Shame on him,” Heitkamp said. “This pay to play is absolutely ridiculous.”

On the Senate floor on Tuesday, Cornyn said Heitkamp appointed McConnell as a special assistant attorney general to represent the state in tobacco litigation, and McConnell and his wife contributed $30,000 to Heitkamp’s gubernatorial campaign.

McConnell and his law firm contributed an additional $73,000 to the North Dakota Democratic Party during the campaign cycle, making them the No. 4 campaign contributor, Cornyn said.

“Now, there’s nothing wrong with people contributing money to political candidates or parties or causes that they believe in, but it’s another matter when these contributions are made in connection with no-bid contracts or apparent political favors,” Cornyn said.

McConnell will receive $2.5 million to $3.1 million a year through 2024 as part of his payoff for his work in the tobacco litigation, Cornyn claimed.

On Wednesday, Heitkamp provided the pages of the master settlement agreement that refer to “Designation of Outside Counsel.” While other states have outside lawyers named to receive compensation for representation, next to North Dakota is the word “none.”

“Jack McConnell didn’t receive a dime for any legal work that he ever did for the state of North Dakota,” Heitkamp said. “He served without compensation.”

No one outside of the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office was compensated for the legal work, she said.

She said McConnell was appointed special assistant as he was in other states and the appointment carried over under Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Stenehjem’s office confirmed Wednesday that McConnell continued as a special assistant until 2009. The office provided 11 related pages of paperwork. Included are oaths of office that state “without compensation from the Office of Attorney General” and are signed by McConnell. (See the paperwork here: paperwork )

The Forum wrote about McConnell’s campaign contributions to Heitkamp in a 2002 story.

“We got to see what a fine public servant she was,” McConnell said at the time. “It was very clearly out of the friendship and respect we had for Heidi.”

McConnell’s profile on the Motley Rice law firm website describes him as having more than 20 years of experience in complex litigation. He led the trial team representing the state of Rhode Island against major manufacturers of lead paint.

His career also has involved asbestos cases and trials, including several mass consolidation cases on behalf of more than 10,000 asbestos victims in Maryland, Mississippi and West Virginia, according to his profile.

It also states he played a central role in litigation against the tobacco industry on behalf of the state attorneys general, serving as a negotiator and primary drafter of the master settlement agreement.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a statement stating it was opposing a federal district court nominee for the first time. President and CEO Thomas Donohue said McConnell would not be an impartial judge.

“He has shown a bias against business throughout his career, received a mediocre rating from the American Bar Association and has millions in payouts coming his way from his years as a plaintiffs’ lawyer that would create a massive conflict of interest,” Donohue said in the statement.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said McConnell is “completely qualified” to be a U.S. district judge and said he received bipartisan support when he was nominated and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., voted against McConnell.

“Based on Mr. McConnell’s testimony and published statements, he would be a judicial activist, legislating from the bench, and the senator doesn’t believe in that judicial approach,” Hoeven spokesman Don Canton said.

UPDATED: State lawmakers, officials react to Conrad retiring

You can find reaction from the state Capitol about Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., retiring below and you can find video here.

From Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo:

“Of his years in public service, Senator Kent Conrad will demonstrate his most important leadership in the next two years. He is in the middle of every controversy in the country in terms of budget balancing challenges and his attention to protecting the real needs of people worldwide. 

“With this announcement he will not be encumbered by constant fundraising tasks and the politics of another personal election. Senator Conrad is also giving due notice to the democratic process to field candidates. Senator Conrad’s leadership to the nation will now be at its best. I firmly believe he will go down in history as saving our way of life from financial collapse.

“I was first elected to the ND Senate in 1986 when Senator Conrad was elected to the US Senate. He is leader with the North Dakota values I share and I view him as a good friend. The best is yet to come from Senator Conrad.”

—————

REP. KATHY HAWKEN, R-FARGO

“I’m amazed and a little saddened. I think that Sen. Conrad has done a marvelous job for North Dakota, and I think he will be missed.

“Looking at my side of the aisle, I think it’s going to be a fun two years to see all of the different candidates and who’s going to come out on top.”

———————

Sen. Carolyn Nelson, D-Fargo:

“Basically a shock and a disappointment. I think he has served us extremely well for 24 years.”

———————

SEN. RAY HOLMBERG, R-GRAND FORKS

“I think Sen. Conrad, by making this announcement this early, certainly I was kind of surprised at that.”

——————-

Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks: 

“Well obviously this is a tremendous loss for North Dakota and for the United States Senate, but we have the utmost respect for his decision. And now’s the time to kind of reflect on all the work that Kent Conrad has done for this state.”

——————

Republican Lt. Gov Drew Wrigley

“Well like people all across North Dakota, I join with others in congratulating Sen. Conrad and thanking him for his hard work across many decades on behalf of North Dakota. And that’s really what today needs to be about. So I thank him for his hard work on a variety of issues and even in a variety of positions.”

————

Gov. Jack Dalrymple

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation for his 30 years of public service to the people of North Dakota. I have come to appreciate the time and energy he has devoted to his office.”

————–

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo:

Carlson wasn’t surprised by Conrad’s announcement and said there are a lot of good candidates to run for that office.

However, he said he’d like to see new U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., move over to the Senate seat and someone else run for the U.S. House seat.

Carlson didn’t rule himself out, saying every name should be on the list.

“Rick proved last election that a representative or somebody from the Legislature could win a statewide race, and you shouldn’t eliminate any legislators from that (candidate) list,” he said.

—————–

Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk, who is exploring a Senate run:

“I want to thank Senator Conrad for his many years of service to the people of North Dakota.  He has worked very hard and deserves our thanks.”

Kalk said in a statement that the announcement will not change his approach to a possible U.S. Senate run.

“We will talk with the citizens of North Dakota and with Republicans across the state and be guided by what is best for our family, our state, and our nation.  That has been my guiding philosophy as a United States Marine, an instructor at North Dakota State University, and as North Dakota Public Service Commissioner.”

—————–

Sen. Ryan Taylor, D-Towner:

 “I’ve always considered Senator Conrad a mentor and am grateful for his example as a public servant. He was just as comfortable speaking at a small town cafe as he was speaking on the Senate floor about issues important to North Dakota and the nation.

“We’re all honored to have served with him—some of our members served with him here in the capitol when he was tax commissioner. It will be a transition for our party, but our caucuses remain strong and committed to good government and the betterment of all working people.”

————————-

Rep. Jerry Kelsh, D-Fullerton:  

“Senator Conrad’s decision to not seek reelection is a loss for our state and the U.S. Senate, but we have the utmost respect for his decision. For three decades, Sen. Conrad has been a fighter for North Dakota, especially family farmers and working people, and our country, starting as tax commissioner right here in the Capitol.

“We will miss his service and his unparalleled knowledge of the budget, farm issues, water issues and energy. It has been an honor to work with him and to continue working on issues of importance to North Dakota.”

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

Recently on an evening trip (after dark) home from Winnipeg, Manitoba, I noticed all the green traffic signs on the interstate were covered with black stuff so bad that you could not read them. Is this just field dirt, or do they need replacing?

Ron Thaden

Grand Forks

Thanks for writing! Here’s what Jamie Olson of the North Dakota Department of Transportation said:

“There are times when weather conditions contribute to the signs appearing dark, due to frost, dirt or snow accumulation. Some signs appear to have dark spots after several years of use.

“The conditions you experienced could have been a combination of these factors. The NDDOT evaluates signs and plans for their replacement. We will send your comments on to the evaluation team. Thank you for writing into the North Dakota Department of Transportation. The NDDOT is committed to the safety of the traveling public, which includes traveler information along the interstates and state highways.”


Dear readers,

For a while now, a former Missouri colleague has teased me about North Dakota politicians using the buzz words “North Dakota values.” What does that even mean, and how are North Dakota values different from any other states’ values?

So, I thought it would be fun to ask politicians to define the phrase. Here’s what Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said:

“Growing up in North Dakota, I learned a certain set of values: the importance of hard work, personal responsibility, honesty and integrity. I learned the importance of helping our neighbors and supporting our communities.

“These core values were taught to me at a young age and are still instilled by many North Dakota families today. These are the common values we share as North Dakotans. These are the values we must uphold and pass down to future generations.”

Congressman-elect Rick Berg, R-N.D., gave this response:

“I think what makes North Dakota different is we have to deal with the weather. We deal with crises here that other states don’t.

“In North Dakota, one of the things is that people are valued as equals, and I think that’s because the richest person in town could be in the ditch and need the help of someone who’s at the other end of the spectrum.

“And likewise, I think because of the weather we pull together. We’re used to pulling together as communities, like (with) the flood. I think in North Dakota the values are – I want to say fresher in everyone’s mind.

“I think, in these other states, people have those values, but it’s not like here every winter. Stopping to help a neighbor could be a life or death situation.

“When you talk about values, I thought (of) working hard, people living within their means, really helping each other out. I think one of the values is a sense of community – that we’re all in this together. I think out of all of that comes the North Dakota nice.”

Here’s how Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle answered the question:

“From the employer perspective, North Dakota has a good work ethic. I think we’re conscientious. We’re honest. We work hard. We’re innovative, and we also value community and family. I think that’s what makes North Dakota special.”

Do you have a question for a state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

Interview with HUD secretary

BISMARCK—The nation’s top housing official said Tuesday that he saw the depth of the housing struggles some families are enduring to keep their jobs in western North Dakota.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan spent time in Williston and Minot on Monday and Tuesday to hear about the housing challenges in oil country.

“It’s one thing to read about it. Seeing is believing,” he said. “Really seeing it for myself and seeing the challenges was critical.”

Donovan discussed his trip to North Dakota in a phone interview with Forum Communications.

Q. Of all the places in the country you could be, why did you decide to come to North Dakota?

A. The president asked me to come because the success of North Dakota is important, not just for the region. I was in Williston yesterday. I’m in Minot today. I met with mayors from a range of communities that have benefited from the oil boom here.

That’s important not just to those communities and their success, not just to North Dakota’s success, but to the nation’s success.

If we can’t make sure that there’s housing available in communities that are benefiting from the oil boom, we’re not going to be able to create jobs in this country. We’re not going to be able to have true energy independence and reduce our dependency on foreign oil, which is a key priority of the president.

He asked me to come because the success of this region is critical to the nation’s economy. And housing is a key part of making sure that this job growth can continue.

Have you been to North Dakota before?

I have not. I actually have traveled to 48, now 49, states in my life. When I get to South Dakota this afternoon, I will have visited all 50 states in the country.

I was invited specifically by Senator (Kent) Conrad and also spent time with Congressman (Earl) Pomeroy yesterday.

I would not have known that these challenges were so acute around housing if it hadn’t been for the advocacy of Senator Conrad and Congressman Pomeroy on behalf of North Dakota. They’ve been vocal about the importance of housing as part of the solution to ensure continued job growth.

What were your thoughts as you toured the area?

I’d say two things, somewhat contrasting, in fact.

One is that North Dakota should be proud of the success that I saw in Williston and so many communities. You see challenges of success and particularly when so many parts of the country are facing severe unemployment, the legacy of this terrible recession that the president inherited.

All of the challenges that we talked about really are a result of companies wanting to come here, of seeing a work ethic and a set of values in North Dakota that has really made the region a success.

And so while the challenges are very real, one of the things that really struck me yesterday is that these are challenges of success, and North Dakota ought to be proud of the success that it’s had.

On the other hand, those challenges are very real. When you see a family that’s willing to drive 1,000 miles, take a job in a community where they’re maybe even sleeping in a tent or living in a camper, that you know is going be bitterly cold (in winter), you really do see that housing is a critical part of the solution for these communities.

Talk about some of the testimony you heard and what people wanted from you.

This is the other thing that’s critical about coming. I was here to see for myself and understand the challenges but also to hear about local solutions.

The important role the federal government can play, and the president believes that our administration can play, is not to come in and say, “We have all the answers and the federal government is here to do this.”

Instead, what I heard yesterday from local government officials, from folks from the private sector, is we do have a private sector that’s ready to step in that can lead the development of new housing, new infrastructure that will help these communities grow and prosper.

But there is also hesitancy on that private sector, having seen a boom and bust cycle before in the oil industry, seeing the way that the balance sheets of many local community banks have been hurt by the recession that we’ve been through, even though it hasn’t affected North Dakota in the same way.

There is hesitancy for private developers and investors to come in and build at the scale necessary to really keep up with the growth.

Therefore, what we can do to be helpful is bring resources that can partner with the private sector to make sure that there is consistently long-term capital available for that growth.

We went and visited a 51-unit development called Waters Edge, a beautiful new apartment complex that’s being built in Williston. It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the Recovery Act.

Another example is through the Federal Housing Administration, or FHA which is part of HUD. It was created by Congress right after the Depression to make sure housing capital, whether it’s for single-family homes or apartment housing, capital is available, loans are available in difficult times when the private sector retreats.

What are you going to report back to the president?

I’m going to report on the progress that we’ve already made. I’ve mentioned the Waters Edge and FHA.

I saw roofs being installed on public housing … housing being improved because of the Recovery Act incentives.

What I’ll also report to him on is what new things we’ll be able to do, what ideas I heard on other ways we could be helpful.

The other thing I heard very consistently is it isn’t just the actual capital or loans to build housing. It’s also the broader planning of what these communities will look like going forward.

One of the things I heard very consistently is, “We don’t want to make mistakes of the past.”

We drove by apartments put up very, very quickly, almost haphazardly, during the oil boom in the ‘80s. Many folks said to me, “This is what we don’t want to do.”

We want to make sure we’re building the right housing in the right kind of places. We want to make sure we’re developing a true community: the schools, the roads, the health care, all of the pieces necessary of a thriving community are accounted for and part of the development to happen.

That’s why the president has made a key focus providing the kind of planning dollars, particularly to small communities, that haven’t been available before.

That was something I heard very consistently is a key piece of what the federal government can provide.

And we can help connect all of the local leaders I met with yesterday to some of the best practices from around the country.

How quickly can the federal government provide help?

We are already doing that. The Recovery Act has been a critical source of financing. The planning money that I talked about, we will be awarding that funding this fall. That can be of assistance very quickly and, in FHA, we’re ready to provide assistance on loans whether it be single-family loans or multi-family.

What are some things that struck you personally as you toured the area?

I saw men living in tents across from the library where we met yesterday.

I saw campers with families making a desperate effort to try to insulate those campers and ensure that they stayed as warm as possible through the tough winters of North Dakota.

When I saw all of that in one day, it just really brings home the nature and the depth of the struggles some families are going through to be able to keep jobs here and provide for their families.

It made sure that I’m going to go back to Washington to work with Senator Conrad, to work with Congressman Pomeroy to make sure we do everything we can as a partner at the federal level to help those families have a decent roof over their heads (and they) are warm during the winter and make sure that they can provide for their families by keeping their jobs there.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’m headed to South Dakota later today really to see in some ways the opposite end of the spectrum. There are unemployment rates of 75 percent or more on many Native American reservations. There, the housing challenges are extreme, but from a different point of view.

I’m really seeing both ends of the spectrum, if you will, in the Dakotas on this trip and making sure we’re meeting the broad range of needs for rural communities around the country.

The health care debate continues

BISMARCK – North Dakota will see more than $2 billion in benefits in the next 10 years as a result of federal health care reform, Sen. Kent Conrad,

D-N.D., said Friday.

Conrad had a news conference at the AARP headquarters in Bismarck “to clarify elements of the health care law and the benefits that it will bring to North Dakota.”

Conrad was responding to remarks from state Republican lawmakers that the new law will increase costs for North Dakotans by about $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.

Industry, Business and Labor Committee Chairman Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, recently said Conrad’s office should look at how the numbers were reached “and tell us where we’re wrong.”

On Friday, Conrad called the state committee study “very deeply flawed” and said it ­didn’t include an assessment of benefits.

“There’s a lot of misinformation that’s been circulated, and misleading information, so this is one more attempt to set the record straight,” Conrad said.

Here’s how Conrad reaches his $2 billion in estimated benefits:

  • $844 million in tax credits for health insurance.
  • More than $240 million in reduced Medicare cost-sharing.
  • More than $545 million in increased payments to North Dakota hospitals and physicians.
  • More than $595 million in Medicaid benefits.Conrad said his numbers are conservative and don’t include tax credits for 17,000 North Dakota small businesses. He also said there are intangible benefits with the bans on pre-existing condition exclusions, lifetime limits and rescissions.

    “It expands coverage while beginning to control costs and improves quality and competition and choices for consumers,” Conrad said. “It’s not perfect, but it is clearly, in my judgment, a step in the right direction.”

    Conrad said the legislation “is fully paid for” and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found it will reduce the deficit by $143 billion in the first 10 years.

    The North Dakota Republican Party called Conrad a magician by “arguing benefits will materialize at no cost.”

    “Democrats expect voters to believe that these benefits are going to appear out of thin air, at no cost. The reality is taxpayers will eventually have to pay for this,” Executive Director Adam Jones said in a statement.

    “The only thing Demo-crats haven’t promised on health care is a unicorn for every voter,” he added. “Let’s remember, these are the same people who promised national unemployment wouldn’t rise above

    8 percent if we passed their trillion-dollar stimulus package.”

    The bulk of the $1.1 billion cost in the state committee study was $983 million said to be incurred by Blue Cross Blue Shield consumers, assuming all covered individuals remain

    in grandfathered plans through 2010-19.

    Conrad said this asserts a 60 percent increase in premiums as a result of the health care legislation, which “is not validated

    by any other objective source.”

    Representatives of AARP, St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, North Dakota Farmers Union and The Arc also spoke in favor of the health care law at the news conference.

  • HUD secretary visit

    I spent about seven hours in a meeting yesterday, so got behind in blogging. Related to all of the Running with Oil stories you’re seeing this week, the HUD secretary is visiting the state next week.

    From Sen. Kent Conrad’s office:

    Senator Kent Conrad announced today that United States Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan has accepted his invitation to visit Williston later this month to get a firsthand look at western North Dakota’s critical housing challenges.

    “We’re facing a very unique challenge in the oil patch. We have plenty of jobs, but not enough housing for the people who hold them.  This challenge, if left unchecked, could stifle future growth in the region,” Conrad said.   

    Conrad, Donovan and Congressman Earl Pomeroy will meet with leaders from Williston and surrounding communities on Monday, August 23. The secretary will be given a tour of the community by Williston leaders followed by a meeting with officials from other communities in the oil patch.  Gov. John Hoeven has also been invited.

    Today’s story

    BISMARCK — Officials disagreed Wednesday about what the financial impact of federal health care reform will mean in North Dakota.

    A spokesman for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said the federal government, not the states, will be “picking up practically the entire tab” to expand Medicaid under the new law.

    But state Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, stands by his statement that the new federal health care law will increase costs for North Dakota families by about $1.1 billion over the next 10 years.

    Conrad spokesman Chris Gaddie sent out an e-mail Wednesday responding to a story where Keiser discussed increased costs expected by the state.

    Under the most conservative estimate, the state will assume a $32 million Medicaid cost increase, Gaddie said. The total increase in spending from 2014 to 2019 is estimated to be $627 million, with $32 million for the state and $595 million for the federal government, Gaddie said.

    “It’s also important to note that an additional 28,800-plus North Dakotans will be enrolled under that scenario, meaning thousands more of our friends and neighbors will have badly needed health insurance,” he said.

    Under a more aggressive scenario that would include greater outreach to the state’s uninsured, the numbers change slightly, Gaddie said. Estimates indicate more than 40,000 North Dakotans would be covered at a cost of $57 million to the state, he said. The federal share under this scenario drops slightly to 92.5 percent of the total $766 million cost, he said.

    “Under either scenario, however, the federal government is picking up the lion’s share of the cost of expanding Medicaid, while tens of thousands of North Dakotans will benefit,” Gaddie said.

    Keiser said Wednesday that his numbers came from the testimony of state agency officials, “and that’s all I can say. I trust them.”

    John Bjornson of the state Legislative Council explained the $1.1 billion total comes from the following numbers:

    - $12.4 million for the Insurance Department, not including information technology costs.

    - $106 million for the Department of Human Services Medicaid expansion, with other costs possible.

    - $8.9 million for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System, assuming all covered individuals remain in grandfathered plans through 2010-2019.

    n $2.7 million for political subdivisions, assuming all covered individuals remain in grandfathered plans through 2010-2019.

    - $983 million incurred by Blue Cross Blue Shield consumers, assuming all covered individuals remain in grandfathered plans through 2010-2019.

    The extra costs in the last three items stem from per-contract reform mandates, such as dependents now being allowed to remain on their parents’ plans until age 26 and no more lifetime maximums, Bjornson said.

    Keiser said Conrad’s office should look at the documentation for how the numbers were reached.

    “I encourage them to take our summary apart and tell us where we’re wrong, where they are going to cover these costs that have been identified by the state,” Keiser said. “I don’t think perhaps that they fully appreciate the degree of analysis that our state departments have done.”

    When reached late Wednesday, Gaddie said he would respond today after taking time to review the numbers.

    Also Wednesday, Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, sent out a statement reaffirming his opposition to the health care law. Berg is challenging Rep. Earl Pomeroy for a seat in the U.S. House.

    Berg, who serves on the interim Industry, Business and Labor Committee with Keiser, said the $1.1 billion estimate by the committee “comes as an unfunded federal mandate that would be an additional cost to North Dakotans on top of the federal costs.”