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Published May 05 2011

Schafer says he’s not interested in run for governor

BISMARCK – Former Gov. Ed Schafer said Wednesday that he is not interested in serving again as North Dakota governor.

Conservatives have pointed to a possible gu-bernatorial run in 2012 for Schafer, who has been vocal in his concerns about the North Dakota Legislature’s spending this session.

When asked flat-out if he was interested in running, Schafer said, “I’m not.”

“My only point was I think that we are developing, building a government that we’re not going to be able to afford in the future,” he said.

The Legislature approved a nearly $10 billion budget before it adjourned last week, which includes $4 billion in general fund spending.

Schafer, who served as governor from 1992 to 2000, said the state is becoming too dependent on oil, “a cyclical commodity,” as a revenue source.

Schafer said he made comments that he might have to “come in to mop it up again” if the state finds itself in the same financial situation it had after the 1980s oil crash.

But he said running for governor is not something he wants to do, and he is not interested in being drafted.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said last week during an end-of-session news conference that he doesn’t think the state is headed for a crash.

“I believe that we have enough optimism in this Legislature – and enough confidence in where we’re going in the next two years – that they felt they absolutely could sustain this budget,” he said.

Looking at the general fund revenue picture for the next two years, sales and use taxes (including motor vehicle) account for about 45 percent of total general fund revenues. Personal and corporate income taxes account for nearly 20 percent.

Nine percent is oil and gas gross production and extraction tax revenue. Another 18 percent – the Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund and the Property Tax Relief Fund – also involves oil-related sources.

Oil and gas gross production and extraction tax revenue expected for the current biennium is $1.411 billion, the state Tax Department said Wednesday.

The forecast of total oil tax collections for the 2011-13 biennium is $2.041 billion.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo also addressed those who say the state spent too much money this legislative session.

“There was a lot of spending but, in my opinion, we put it in the right place,” he said last week.

Major spending items from this session include the $342 million in property tax relief and $370.6 million for oil counties and $60 million for non-oil producing counties for infrastructure needs.

The state spent $235 million for water projects, including Devils Lake outlets and Red River Valley flood control. K-12 schools will receive $102.5 million more in the 2011-13 biennium than they did in the last biennium. Republicans say the additional funding will help keep local property taxes down, and $54.3 million of it is to achieve adequacy of K-12 funding per a legal settlement.

The ending fund balance projected for the 2011-13 biennium is $51 million. There is also estimated to be $386 million in the budget stabilization fund and $700,000 in a new strategic investment and improvements fund.

The Legislature also set aside nearly $342 million to use for property tax relief during the 2013-15 biennium. The Legacy Fund is expected to have more than $600 million in the bank by the end of 2011-13, although legislators can’t spend any of that money until 2017.

Schafer said he’s a loyal Republican and said there are great people in office.

“I’m just concerned that Republicans over the last 10, 12 years have abandoned some of the principles that make our party strong and that, of course, would be the growth of government,” he said. “I’m going to be fighting to get us back to our principles.”

Continuing to increase government by 25 percent is not sustainable, he said.

“I’m going to be vocal about it. We have to correct it,” Schafer said. “I worry that we’re building a system that we just are not going to be able to sustain over time.”


Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.