« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Published January 06 2013

Oil issues to dominate North Dakota legislative session

BISMARCK — North Dakota Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple couldn't help but relish in his oil-rich state's economic prosperity at a recent luncheon featuring governors from across the nation.

“It's almost embarrassing when I have to stand up in front of governors who are struggling with economies and we have nothing but good news,” Dalrymple said. “It almost gets to the point where I've asked them not to hold it against me personally.”

Indeed, Dalrymple's gubernatorial contemporaries can point largely to the oil boom in western North Dakota and the revenue and jobs it has produced for the state. Fueled by the unprecedented oil bonanza, North Dakota now leads the nation in population growth, boasts a more than $1.6 billion budget surplus and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.

But record production that has propelled the state to the nation's No. 2 oil producer behind Texas also has brought challenges, including more crime brought on by an exploding population and torn-up roads caused by increased traffic. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new housing construction and infrastructure improvements haven't kept pace.

Dalrymple said North Dakota's explosive growth and the downsides that have come with it will highlight his State of the State address Tuesday when the Legislature begins its biennial session.

“I will bring up our many achievements and great progress ... and explain to people how we will meet the challenges ahead,” he said.

Senate Democratic minority leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks said most issues raised during the session will “revolve around oil.”

“I'm an eastern North Dakota legislator and I really believe we have a moral obligation to stand by communities in western North Dakota that have literally paid the price,” Schneider said.

Dalrymple last month unveiled a two-year, $12.8 billion budget plan to legislators that includes nearly $1 billion in road work in western North Dakota. The budget proposal also calls for 171 new state employees, including more law enforcement, court, health and regulatory workers to keep tabs on the growing energy industry.

Such plans are a rarity in the nation, where states have had to lay off state workers and slash government programs as they grapple with budgets decimated by the fallout from the recession.

Meanwhile, Dalrymple's budget also asks lawmakers to double the share of tax revenue for oil-producing counties over the next two years to $521 million.

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the Senate's majority leader, said the governor's budget addresses most of the pressing needs statewide and in the oil patch.

Dalrymple and Wardner said they've fielded plenty of suggestions on how to spend oil tax revenue that is fattening the state treasury.

“We're going to have to sort out the wants versus the needs,” Wardner said. “That will be our job.”