On the Issues: District 12 SenateVoters in District 12 will choose a senator to represent them in the North Dakota Legislature for the next four years. Dave Nething, the current District 12 senator and a Republican, is retiring. District 12 Senate candidates John Grabinger, a Democrat, and Bernie Satrom, a Republican, are seeking the seat. The Sun asked the candidates for biographical information and posed 11 written questions. Here are their written answers, limited to 150 words per question.
1. Why should voters choose you to represent them in the Legislature?
John Grabinger: I think the most important reason for voters to choose me is the fact that I served this community as a city councilman for eight years and chaired many of the committees that affect our residents. I believe that while serving the citizens of Jamestown, I was not only fiscally responsible with the tax dollars but also provided strong leadership that was willing to question status quo when necessary. I firmly believe that the experience I’ve had through my years of public service, volunteerism and business in this community make me a wise choice to replace our long-serving and respected Sen. Dave Nething.
Bernie Satrom: Over the last several months I have had multiple meetings with Republican state leaders on how we can make North Dakota even better. I have developed many relationships that will be valuable as I work to represent you. I would be honored to represent you in the North Dakota State Senate. Here are the things I plan to work on. Fund the priorities: With the budget surplus we have great needs which need immediate attention. We need to make sure that they are addressed properly. Invest in infrastructure: There are great infrastructure needs out west but we also need infrastructure to grow Jamestown and Stutsman County. I will work with Senate leaders to create a positive job environment. Invest in our future: education, law enforcement and mental health are priorities. Property tax relief: freeing up money for you to invest in your future.
2. What is the most pressing issue facing the Legislature in the next session? What is your opinion on this issue?
Grabinger: There’s little question that the most pressing issue facing the next legislative assembly are the infrastructure concerns. Not only the Oil Patch, but also throughout the whole state. Whether it be the needs out west, damaged roads and bridges, or flood control needs, we must as a state address these issues in a proactive way. I believe that with the current financial situation in North Dakota, there is no doubt that the Legislature can, should and will begin to provide the appropriate actions necessary to address these issues. I feel we must all realize that many of these issues did not happen overnight and to expect that they can be a one-time cost to the state is not realistic.
Satrom: With increased oil production and good farming years North Dakota has a surplus of money. We also have a surplus of needs. We need to make sure that we manage wisely. We need to make sure that we don’t make down payments on things we won’t be able to afford later. Invest in our future, encourage strong families and good education. Create a positive business environment. High taxes and extreme regulations cost jobs and encourage businesses to go to other states or countries. North Dakota has a workforce second to none and we need to create an environment where businesses will come here to build their futures with us. We need to encourage good-paying jobs so that our citizens have time and money to invest in their families’ futures. We need to protect our way of life of hard work, family values and strong communities.
3. Should DUI laws be toughened during the next legislative session? If so, how? Explain.
Grabinger: I think after some of the recent terrible tragic events that have happened there is a renewed level of angst among the citizens toward impaired, multi-offended drivers and a desire to put more teeth in our laws. I would support these efforts and believe that we should take a step forward by finding out what has had an impact in other states in reducing these instances and then implement proven and effective solutions here.
Satrom: Many of us have been impacted by DUI related accidents directly or indirectly. It is a tragedy for all families involved. I would like to see a toughening of the penalties. Here are some concerns: Is a $250 DUI first-time offense fine, made in payments, a deterrent? Are 30 days in jail served over weekends a deterrent? Does someone who habitually over drinks care about increased penalties? All these questions need to be explored. Are we looking at the root cause? North Dakota has an underage drinking problem. Is there a correlation between underage drinking leading to alcoholism? How can we communicate the importance of being responsible to our children? What role does over serving play? Should there be additional penalties? Should we look at additional options? DUI plates, mandatory suspension of license? Ignition interlock devices? We aren’t making much progress in our fight against drinking and driving.
4. What kind, if any, of tax relief would you advocate if elected? Explain.
Grabinger: Obviously the citizens have made it clear that the state must put property tax reform on the table. Both governor candidates have solutions to address this issue and I would support meaningful reductions regardless of who sits in the governor’s seat. I feel increasing the allowable level of homestead credit is one option along with Sen. Ryan Taylor’s suggestion of the first $100,000 of property value on one’s home residence is another that has promise. I’m sure by the time the Legislature convenes there will be the other ideas and examples to consider. Although, we must also maintain the 70 percent funding level for education that has saved North Dakota citizens millions in tax dollars over the last couple years.
Satrom: Property tax relief is first on the list. The state has given significant tax relief in the last few years and more is planned. Gov. Jack Dalrymple is proposing a 50 percent reduction in the average school district levy. This could amount to $1,100 savings on an $180,000 home. As part of the proposal there will be a $100 million deduction in individual income taxes and a $25 million break for corporate income taxes. Theses are all steps in the right direction. This frees up money for people to invest in their future, for a home, college or to start a family. One of the aspects of the proposal I am very excited about is a plan for the state to pick up more of the tax bill for disabled residents and senior citizens. We have a homestead tax credit in place but it requires homeowners be basically broke.
5. Is the state protecting the environment while encouraging oil-related development? Explain.
Grabinger: Most of the experts I have talked to feel we are managing at this point, but hesitate when pressed about the future. Our state and local agencies are working with the oil companies to improve both regulations and compliance. Another concern is well site bonding. When a well plays out, the cleanup costs have skyrocketed and we need to make sure the cleanup is on the oil company and not us. I think the biggest challenge is going to be maintaining our hunting heritage amongst all of the oil activity. Our state Legislature, wildlife agencies and our wildlife clubs are going to have to determine what measures to take to preserve and improve wildlife conditions in the Oil Patch.
Satrom: I believe so. Oil drilling started in North Dakota 60 years or more ago. Fracking was first developed in 1947 and since then they have made tremendous improvements in safety and efficiency. One of the primary environmental concerns is the protection of groundwater. Water is typically around 200 feet down, the oil is a mile or more down and they are separated by impermeable rock. By utilizing alternating layers of cement and steel casing they can pull the oil out of the ground without disrupting the water supply. Additional tests are performed to ensure that the seal is not compromised. There are a tremendous amount of regulations regarding fracking. It benefits all parties especially the oil companies when it is done in a responsible way. A lot of people misunderstand the process and I would suggest people check out www.energyfrom shale.org to see a video to understand it better.
6. How would you prioritize the use of the state’s surplus funds? Explain.
Grabinger: In my answer to question two, I explained that infrastructure issues facing our state are priority one. Secondly, I feel property tax reform must happen. We also must maintain or if possible increase education funding. Having a burgeoning revenue surplus, while at the same time having our teachers be ranked 47th in pay out of the 50 states, is nothing to be proud of. We as a state also need to maintain a solid set of benefits for our state employees’ and help provide for our growing senior population through programs that fund such things as meals on wheels. We should also utilize the 25 percent of leftover general funds monies presently being put into the legacy fund beyond the mandated 40 percent to meet some of our state needs.
Satrom: Hundreds of millions in tax revenue have come in from the oil counties. No. 1. Our first priority must be to help with the increased infrastructure and housing, education, law enforcement and other needs. No. 2. Money will be coming from the state to assist in tax relief, infrastructure development and affordable housing development to help communities like Jamestown. With the new development in the Spiritwood Energy Park, growth is coming to Jamestown and Stutsman County. The City Council and county commissioners need to continue to be proactive in planning for potential growth in Jamestown. Roads need to be improved; bad roads might encourage families to settle in Valley City rather than Jamestown. Housing is in short supply and we need to plan and develop infrastructure so that additional single family and apartments can be built.
7. What, if anything, could the Legislature do to facilitate an increase in affordable housing in North Dakota?
Grabinger: I am not sure this is an area the state should or needs to be getting involved with. Although we could make sure we utilize the Bank of North Dakota in an effort to assist development. There are already some federal programs that are designed to assist in these efforts. There are also programs available to help private developers move forward if the need is worthy. Therefore there may be little need for the state to take action, although I would be open to any suggestions that may be to the contrary.
Satrom: We need housing not only in the oil country but also here in Jamestown. In oil country there was $135 million in energy impact grant funds to help develop necessary infrastructure and support greater development of housing projects. Gov. Jack Dalrymple proposed that the North Dakota Housing Incentive Fund be expanded to $15 million. This is a loan source for developers who pledge to build affordable housing for low- to middle-income families. This could facilitate $95 million in construction. In addition there are still low-interest loans available for those affected by the Minot flood. For the new session Dalrymple is expected to expand the Flex Pace Program which will provide low interest loans to further development of affordable housing projects. The $12 million investment by the state will provide $125 million in development.
8. Are there incentives you would support that would make higher education more affordable to college/university students? Explain.
Grabinger: Absolutely, first thing I would suggest is that the Bank of North Dakota reduce the interest rate on student loans where the student is current. Right now many of us can buy a car as low as 3 percent yet in some cases the rate on student loans is as high as 8 percent. Secondly, I would support doubling the amount students can receive in the student tuition assistance program. Lastly, if higher education decides to raise tuition costs at our state colleges and universities, I feel that the Legislature should consider utilizing the state student loan assistance fund of nearly $40 million to cover these additional funds. This way our students would see little to no cost increases in tuition in the next biennium.
Satrom: I think we should look at why the cost of higher education has become so expensive and see if there is a way to curb future increases. It is a tragedy to spend a large amount on a degree and not be able to get a job. I would encourage continued scholarships to assist our North Dakota students. I would support dual credit classes and any innovative programs which help our students save money and get college credits while still in high school. I would encourage more online education. This would be an opportunity for working people to advance their education in a flexible schedule. The Legislature needs to look at ways to control costs. Should state funding to the colleges be tied to college credits successfully completed? Is our reciprocity agreement with neighboring states still a wise investment? We need to encourage colleges to provide marketable degrees and training.
9. What is your vision for North Dakota in the next 10 years? Explain.
Grabinger: I envision our state growing dramatically and becoming much more diverse. While at the same time maintaining our present financially sound position. I would like to see our state become a model for transparency by creating a bipartisan ethics committee to oversee any possible violations in our state government. I read that our great state was considered in a Fox business story. It was about an independent study that said our state was the seventh most corrupt state government in the nation. I feel this is something that needs to be rectified promptly.
Satrom: Good jobs. Strong families and strong schools. We need to encourage a culture which values strong families, learning and education. Responsible energy development. Helping our state and country to be energy independent while being environmentally wise. Common sense regulation and spending have made our state the envy of the nation. We have a surplus while many states are drowning in debt. Tax money belongs to the hardworking taxpayers, government should serve the voters, be good stewards and invested wisely. A diversified local and state economy. Encourage long-term development in the Energy Park. Creating good jobs and more opportunities. Fair compensation and secure retirement funds for our state employees. I am excited about the opportunities for us as North Dakotans. The country and world are watching. With responsible wise planning, common sense regulations and by working together we can lead the nation.
10. What percent of funding for public education should be the state’s responsibility? Explain.
Grabinger: I believe that the state took a major step by spending more than $340 million to bring the state’s responsibility for funding education to the 70 percent level. Thus, in doing so providing North Dakotans with a sizable tax savings. My hope is that the Legislature sees fit to maintain this level and if it can be increased, I would support doing so if it would adequately compensate our great teachers. We must keep in mind that any educational funding is what educates our children, the very foundation of our future.
Satrom: There is a legal mandate that the funding be adequate and equitable. The concept being that every child have an opportunity for a good education regardless of whether he or she lives in a rich or poor school district. As we get more and more funding from the state the school districts must be careful to maintain local control. When people pay taxes into something they feel a vested interest and greater sense of ownership. I believe that the state is funding at around a 70 percent percent level presently. The governor is proposing the state buy down mills to aid education. I am not sure what the full impact of this would be. I think we should look at expanding the state funding to 80 percent or more. We need to be careful to make sure that any changes we make are sustainable.
11. Should speeding fines be increased? Why or why not?
Grabinger: Yes, the present fines have not been raised much at all and have caused more problems from persistent speeders simply disregarding our limits. Increasing them is in my opinion more of a safety issue then a revenue enhancer; hopefully more drivers would then adhere to the limits.
Satrom: I think we should look at it. Safety on our roads is our primary concern. I have had people tell me that the current fines are generally quite small and not much of a deterrent. Also we should look at revising the point system. Other states might give us insights on what the most effective combination might be.More from around the web