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Lloyd Omdahl, Published January 13 2013

Omdahl: Easier to spread the dirt

"Hey! What you guys doing down there?”

“We’re digging out space for another vault?”

“Nobody is supposed to know about these vaults under the floor of the Capitol. Who told you about them?”

“The state treasurer, that’s who. And who are you?”

“I’m the watchman who’s supposed to be guarding this place. And who are you?”

“We are deputies of the state treasurer working down here to expand the vault space before the Sanhedrin votes to put more money in storage.”

“It’s not the Sanhedrin, stupid. It’s the Legislature.”

“Sorry. I know more Bible than government – whoever makes the rules and regulations.”

“How many of you guys are down there?”

“Two us – one to dig and one to haul dirt. When my bucket is full, I take the rope ladder up and dump the dirt somewhere. It’s easier to spread the dirt when the Legislature is up there. Now, Mr. Watchman, we appreciate the work, but I would like to know why we need so many vaults down here.”

“What’s your complaint?”

“First, we have two big vaults marked ‘Rainy Day Fund.’ We have so much money saved for rainy days that Noah the Nervous has started building a new ark.”

“That’s only two vaults.”

“I haven’t even started to tell you how many other vaults are down here. We have a really big one with a sign that says: ‘Heritage Fund – Do Not Open Until 2017.’ What’s that all about?”

“That’s oil money. It’s locked up by the state constitution so the Legislature can’t spend it until 2017.”

“Who doesn’t trust the Legislature with the money?”

“In this case, it’s the Legislature. They put this constitutional amendment on the ballot to keep themselves from spending it.”

“If they can’t trust themselves with the oil money, how can they trust themselves with the sales tax money?”

“Don’t ask me. I’m only a watchman. I guess it’s one of those mysterious twists of the mind you find in legislatures.”

“Hey, Mr. Watchman, this is the guy down here doing the digging. The way I figure it, they’ve never seen so much money in their lives and they got so scared they wanted to bury it in a root cellar. And here we are 30 feet under the Capitol basement, making an official state root cellar.”

“When are you guys coming up? I’m getting nervous. This is supposed to be a secret cache, and I don’t want it to get discovered on my watch.”

“There are more vaults down here. We have a little one marked ‘Common Schools Trust Fund.’ Then there’s one marked ‘For Oil Counties Only.’ Here’s one called the ‘Resources Trust Fund.’ If we have all these dedicated funds because we can’t trust ourselves with the money, shouldn’t they be called mistrust funds?

“Hey, Mr. Watchman, it’s the digger again. Why didn’t they just make one big vault in the first place and call it the ‘General Trust Fund’?”

“That takes thinking ahead and some of us have trouble with that.”

“Do you know why we were hired to dig out space for another huge vault? What’s going in here?”

“Well, the legislators still have more money than they know what to do with, so the state treasurer wants to be prepared for a new trust fund.”

“Mr. Watchman, the Capitol will eventually collapse if we keep digging like this.”

“One problem at a time. Just keep digging and get out of here.”


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com