At least 3 spending priorities in N.D.When the news broke last week that North Dakota’s surplus and reserves will total $2 billion by next June, some jaws dropped in disbelief. Other jaws smiled and said, “We told you so.”
By: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Jamestown Sun
When the news broke last week that North Dakota’s surplus and reserves will total $2 billion by next June, some jaws dropped in disbelief. Other jaws smiled and said, “We told you so.”
“We told you so,” was the right response. In fact, it might be an understatement. If the recent past is any guide, the new projections for revenue collections and subsequent surpluses and reserves are conservative. The state’s number crunchers have consistently been low in their projections. There is no reason to suspect the pattern has changed. After all, it’s better to shoot low and finish high, rather than the other way ‘round.
With that history in mind, it would not be a surprise if the next round of revenue projections is significantly higher than last week’s report.
So, what to do with all that money? How should North Dakotans invest an unprecedented heap of gold, generated in large part by the oil and gas boom and in no small part by the state’s strong non-oil diversified economy?
There will be no shortage of hands out at the 2013 Legislature. But here are three broad categories that need attention:
* Education, from early childhood programs to the university campuses. The importance of building and sustaining a world-class public education system cannot be overemphasized. North Dakota has done a good job in education but now needs to do an excellent job, a world-class job. The state has the resources to do it.
* Infrastructure repair and enhancement. That big word encompasses roads, bridges, utilities and sustainable systems to maintain them. The need is obvious in oil country, but much work also needs to be done in non-oil counties and cities, where roads and bridges have deteriorated after years of budget shortfalls and flood damage.
* Tax relief or something like it. The Legislature can’t do much directly about property taxes, but it can put in place tax replacement mechanisms, like the school tax measures that allow school districts to reduce their portion of property taxes without losing funding. The state can make changes in income taxes and state sales taxes. And expect a lively debate over legislation that would return money to every resident North Dakotan, similar to what Alaska did with its oil riches.
There is far more to come, of course. But those three broad areas certainly should be high on the legislative agenda.