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Thomas D. Fiebiger, Published February 17 2014

Letter: OMB’s low-balling projections ought to raise more questions

The Forum reported that North Dakota revenues beat forecasts by $150 million for the first six months of the biennium. It reported we started July 1, 2013, with $1.65 billion in the general fund. Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp was quoted as saying, “So it is quite a big increase.”

After expenditures, the general fund is projected to end the biennium with a balance of $491 million – more than six times the

$80 million forecasted at the end of the legislative session just seven months ago. Sharp also reported $583.1 million in the Budget Stabilization Fund and $1.77 billion in the Legacy Fund.

The Forum article goes on to quote Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, about the difficulties farmers are encountering in relation to the revenue issue. Not to minimize issues farmers are facing, but I could not help but wonder why there were no quotes from legislators asking why over the past many years this has been a consistent pattern from OMB – low-balling projections. Consequently, the Legislature has inaccurate numbers to work with as it evaluates the needs of the state.

I saw this during my time in the Legislature from 2007 to 2010. When you continue to be off that much, and that often, something is wrong. And to simply be grateful for having more money coming in than expected without critically examining why there’s such a disparity in projections is not the right tune to be singing.

What about the hundreds of young North Dakota 3- and 4-year-olds on waiting lists for Head Start or unable to attend Head Start programs because last session your Legislature decided $3 million was too much for this program? Do you think if your legislators knew that the actual revenues would be

$150 million greater (or even $50 million) this much-needed money to help some of our youngest residents, our future, would have been budgeted?

You can fill in all kinds of worthwhile investments needed right now to help our residents and this state move forward. I highly doubt most people in this state have any idea just how much a billion dollars can do, much less $1.6 billion.

Maybe you want to dismiss this letter as just another Democrat wanting to spend more money. Well, it’s the people’s money, not the Legislature’s or the governor’s. We expect and deserve real and accurate projections. We expect and deserve our government to collect money for the needs of the state, not to create a huge rainy day or slush fund. For some folks in this state, it’s raining today. Either use this money to help folks in our state, or give it back. Until North Dakotans rise up and demand this – and change butts in the seats in Bismarck – expect more of the same. Let’s dare to be exceptional.

Fiebiger, a former North Dakota legislator, is a Fargo attorney.