Lloyd Omdahl, Published September 16 2012
Omdahl: Surplus requires caution
So far all we’ve seen is a proposal to give ourselves a big property tax break. That is not a futuristic plan.
Since property taxes on residential and commercial property are a little above the national average, this tax cut could be considered a reasonable part of a larger spending plan, but without a look at a whole budget, it appears more like a grab bag than a plan.
If we don’t use our new wealth with foresight, then future generations will have the right to question our claim that we ever believed our own lip service about our young people being our most important asset. We need to start putting our money where our verbiage is.
Protection and development of natural resources deserves to be on the agenda. Apparently, those who are most concerned about water, land and other resources doubt that the Legislature will respond in a positive manner.
They feel that the Legislature has stonewalled them long enough. They want to go to a vote of the people. And if this stonewalling continues in the 2013 legislative session, they will ask the people to bypass the Legislature and appropriate the money with another initiated measure.
Unless the Legislature follows a progressive priority plan for spending the oil revenue, not only will the natural resource people go to the people to get the money, every other group with a claim will follow suit.
Our ballot will see more initiatives to appropriate oil money and we will end up with a state budget encumbered with dedicated funds created not on the basis of objective evaluation but on who can get the votes to pass them.
If the 2013 Legislature ends up without a rational spending plan, part of the blame must be borne by the executive branch, because that’s where the budget starts.
With so much new money, it seems that the executive branch needs to consider a new approach for determining priorities to offer the Legislature. Even though it is already late in the budgeting process, public input in the initial stages of budgeting should be an important part of a bigger executive budget. This is a new day requiring a new way.
When faced with the governor’s budget and an 80-day legislative session, the Legislature doesn’t have time to do anything but add to or subtract from the governor’s blueprint. Public input during the session is too limited for a meaningful discussion of priorities between the people and the Legislature.
The new oil money can do a lot for North Dakota. It can pave the way to a bigger and better state for future generations if we don’t hog it all for ourselves in this generation. North Dakota doesn’t have to be the vacant spot on the map that native son Eric Sevareid once declared.
But to be a bigger and better state in the future, we need bigger and better thinking about long term goals. If we can’t break out of our traditional thought processes, then we will just be the same old North Dakota, only with a lot of money in storage.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org