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Published January 09 2013

Forum editorial: High-fives all around for ND

Grand Forks Sen. Mac Schneider, the minority leader of the North Dakota Senate, said Tuesday after the governor’s State of the State address that “the time for high-fives is over.” He was referring, apparently, to Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s upbeat assessment of the state’s condition and his faith in state government’s ability and responsibility to fund obvious priorities.

Schneider has it wrong. If ever it is – and will continue to be – the “time for high-fives” in North Dakota, it is now. The good times have been a long time coming. For most of the state’s history, policy makers have struggled to keep North Dakotans in North Dakota. They have had to adapt to forces outside the state, whether political or economic, over which they had no control. They balanced budgets on the backs of the people of the state, while investments in everything from education to roads were neglected or delayed.

It’s a new day rife with new opportunities. The Legislature’s formidable challenge will be to shed the forced conservatism that has been defined for decades by scarcity, fear and a legitimate sense of being a backwater in the nation’s consciousness. Legislators who for so long built policies and structures of government designed to deal with scarcity (of money, of people, of vision, of hope) now are obligated to embrace prosperity and all prosperity can deliver.

It’s a tall order, given the mindset that still afflicts many lawmakers. The glass-half-full crowd will issue dire warnings about “overspending.” No matter how bright the economic horizon their vision will always conjure up dark clouds.

Gov. Dalrymple, never the spendthrift, was seasoned by his years in the Legislatures of scarcity, many of those years as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He understands the state’s economic and budget history. He and his staff also know the state has a lot of money – a helluva lot of money – that can be spent on one-time investments, and can also be managed to ensure a sustainable state economy when either oil or agriculture or both turn down. Those realities are reflected in his budget proposal and the State of the State address. In that context, the high-fives are more than justified.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

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