Campaigns need to be talking oilNorth Dakota produces more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The price of oil has been hovering around $100 a barrel. With no discounts that production is worth more than $50 million a day. In February, the state’s oil and gas taxes generated $159 million in revenue, or more than $5 million a day.
By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun
North Dakota produces more than 500,000 barrels of oil a day. The price of oil has been hovering around $100 a barrel. With no discounts that production is worth more than $50 million a day. In February, the state’s oil and gas taxes generated $159 million in revenue, or more than $5 million a day.
It’s a lot of money. More than state budget planners, the governor and the Legislature expected. More than anyone expected.
Thirty percent of that revenue goes straight to the Legacy Fund and cannot be touched until June 30, 2017. Another third represents the state share which is allocated to a variety of funds, including the Property Tax Relief Fund and General Fund, and can be spent by the 2013 Legislature. From there the cash could go many different directions.
And because there’s a large volume of capital accumulating in state accounts, expect plenty of suggestions as to ways to spend it in the next biennium.
The people of North Dakota ought to be heard before the state decides how to spend these funds, same as for money from the Legacy Fund when the time comes.
This winter Gov. Jack Dalrymple began a process of talking to officials in cities and counties directly impacted by oil development and created an ongoing state response to the concern he and other state officials heard on tours of the oil patch. Democrat-NPL candidate for governor Ryan Taylor has proposed a similar process.
The conversation, however, needs to go beyond the western third of North Dakota. It needs to engage all the state’s citizens, as it did two years ago when the people voted to establish the Legacy Fund. They felt the benefits of oil development ought to be carried into the future. However, they didn’t address exactly how those monies should be spent after they become available in 2017. They left that up to the Legislature.
Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, has the right idea. He suggested recently that the 2013 Legislature approve a study on what to do with the Legacy Fund. “We need to put these ideas into the public policy arena, which is the Legislature,” said Cook. “We need to come up with a plan ... that benefits the people of North Dakota.”
Cook is right. The Legislature should have a plan. There should be a plan for the Legacy Fund and also for the 2013-15 biennium. And those plans should be based on a continuing conversation with the people.
Because it’s an election year, tapping into the public’s common sense can be expedited if candidates and constituents carry on a frank discussion about the benefit of oil and the responsibility of the state. That means hashing it over during debates and forums. Asking questions when candidates show up at your doorstep. It means going deeper on the issues than the sound bites printed up as campaign brochures and bumper stickers. It means making oil the issue.