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Optimists were right; Ed Schafer was wrong

According to Ed Schafer, nobody believed his Cassandra-like warnings in 2011, when he told North Dakota to beware the Trojan Horse of oil income. But maybe that's the because this horse helped the receiving city get rich, unlike what happened to ...

According to Ed Schafer, nobody believed his Cassandra-like warnings in 2011, when he told North Dakota to beware the Trojan Horse of oil income.

But maybe that's the because this horse helped the receiving city get rich, unlike what happened to the original Troy.

In Grand Forks alone, one impressive result stands just up the road from the Alerus Center, where Schafer delivered his remarks last week. It's the University of North Dakota's state-of-the-art, $130 million medical school, whose graduates will be staffing North Dakota's hospitals and clinics for a century to come.

And whose presence owes itself entirely to North Dakota's gusher of oil wealth.

Moreover, now that the "Greeks" at last have emerged the horse in the form of an oil-revenue crash, their destructiveness is being contained by the policy equivalent of a squad of police.

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Yes, the state overshot on its revenue projections, and that's now prompting painful cutbacks at UND and elsewhere.

But the infrastructure that the oil revenue helped build -- the medical school, Grand Forks' now-under construction water-treatment plant, several billion dollars worth of highway, sewer, flood-control and other infrastructure projects out West, to name a few -- remains functional and sound.

In North Dakota, only 9 percent of the state's public roads are in poor condition, compared with a national average of 20 percent, according to American Society of Civil Engineers' 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. That's exceptional, considering the pounding the state's roads have taken.

Grand Forks' Grand Sky and unmanned aircraft systems efforts have reached critical mass, thanks in part to state dollars. UND helps build the state's workforce with new majors such as petroleum engineering, while charging some of the lowest tuition rates in the Upper Midwest, both factors resulting from North Dakota's support.

In fact, North Dakota remains better off in countless ways than it was before the oil boom; it's hardly a landscape of rack and ruin. But don't take our word for it. Here's U.S. News & World Report from as recently as last month explaining the reasoning behind North Dakota's high ranking on the magazine's list of Best States:

"This isn't your father's Fargo any more.

"That a state so sparsely populated and geographically remote stands among the top-five nationally in a broad measure of economic, educational, health and other metrics speaks volumes about an economic boom that North Dakota has experienced during the past decade."

And far from being in the throes of mismanagement, North Dakota in December won 24-7 Wall Street's award as America's best-run state -- for the fifth year in a row.

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In 2011, Schafer urged North Dakota to preemptively cut its oil tax, both to better compete with other states and to choke off some of the state government's too-tempting revenue stream. But North Dakota rejected that advice.

Today, the $4 billion Legacy Fund, all-paid-for medical school and poised-for-the-next-boom infrastructure confirm the wisdom of the state's response.

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