North Dakota spends its money wisely [UPDATED]Published 4:15am Monday, May 13, 2013 Updated 6:16am Monday, May 13, 2013
Our neighbors to the west, in North Dakota, have a solid state treasury in light of the booming energy business. The state, led by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple, is allocating dollars in order to make North Dakota a better state in which to live and work.
The late Theodore Roosevelt, who lived his early years near Medora and later became a Republican president of the United States, would no doubt applaud what state government is doing in 2013.
“At a time when many states are pinching pennies to balance their government budgets, North Dakota just increased education funding, allocated billions to infrastructure improvements and provided $1.1 billion in tax relief,” wrote Fargo Forum reporter Patrick Springer in the newspaper’s edition of Wednesday, May 8.
Minnesota residents could learn some things from our neighbors to the west. North Dakota’s general fund budget has increased from $1.9 billion in 2005-07 to $6.6 billion for 2013-15, close to a three-fold increase. The state is investing in roads, water projects and other infrastructure associated with the oil boom.
Advocates of smaller government maintain that North Dakota’s government has grown too much in recent years. That argument is falling on deaf ears in light of energy dollars flowing into state government.
Few, in any, Republicans or Democrats in the North Dakota Legislature feel that money is being wasted.
“The oil boom, which has brought significant population growth, pressure for affordable housing, and wear-and-tear on roads and highways, requires significant infrastructure upgrades that simply can’t be ignored,” said Dalrymple. “The infrastructure needs are great out there.”
The governor emphasizes that decades of deferred maintenance on roads, bridges and buildings also demand attention.
North Dakota’s 2013-15 budget also provides more than $850 million in property tax relief, including $656 million provided through a new K-12 funding formula that will have the state paying about 80 percent of the cost of educating each child. This reduces the cost for local schools.
Another $250 million in income tax relief was provided, including $200 million for individuals and $50 million for corporations. Total tax relief totals $1.1 billion for 2013-15.
“Despite the significant spending on infrastructure, education and tax relief, our state’s budgetary reserves are healthy,” said Dalrymple.
By 2017, the North Dakota Legacy Fund, which sets aside 30 percent of state oil and gas revenues, is projected to exceed $2.9 billion. The Legacy Fund now totals about $1 billion.
“So if we did hit a wall, we are going to get through it without a lot of pain and suffering,” said Dalrymple.
The governor told the Fargo Forum that state officials and legislators have been careful to ensure that ongoing budget spending tracks with the growing economy.
“When your economy is twice as big as it was 10 years ago, it stands to reason that your government will be twice as big,” he said.
It’s interesting that the average North Dakotan does not see state government as an enemy. That’s refreshing in this day and age of voter cynicism.
Dalrymple concedes that property tax relief cannot prevent property tax increases resulting from increasing property values.
“If your home is worth more, that’s a good thing,” said Dalrymple. “Voters must make their wishes known to local officials, including public schools, which levy property taxes.”
I had the honor of meeting Gov. Dalrymple at a NDSU Bison football game this past fall. I said I was proud of my family ties to North Dakota, with my late father growing up in Wahpeton and my grandparents residing near Mapleton.
Dalrymple grew up on the family farm near Casselton. He served on the Casselton Jobs Development Commission and helped to found Share House, Inc.,a Fargo residential treatment program for those recovering from alcohol or drug dependencies.
He married Betsy Wood in 1971, and is the father of four daughters.