Mike Nowatzki, Forum News Service, Published February 24 2014
ND fund balances now available on state treasurer's websiteBISMARCK – North Dakotans now have a one-stop website for finding out how much money their state government holds in its various funds.
State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt said her office launched the “Government Funds” section of its website late last week.
Public interest in state funds is on the rise as North Dakota’s oil and gas boom sends billions of dollars into state coffers and lawmakers debate the best ways to spend or save the tax revenue.
Schmidt said interest has doubled since she took office in 2005 and has increased dramatically since a ballot measure was proposed in 2012 to abolish property taxes. Voters defeated the measure.
“We were seeing a tremendous amount of volume on our website, email requests, phone calls, people wanting to know where their dollars are, and we felt that this is an important service to provide that can initiate discussion and provide accurate information,” Schmidt said.
As of Monday, the website contained descriptions of 33 state funds and six clearing accounts. At least nine of the funds were created since 2003. Information about the state’s pension trust fund and insurance trust fund also will be posted in the future, Schmidt said.
State government has literally hundreds of funds, many of the checkbook-like operating funds, and the funds listed on the website are those that carry a regular fund balance, Schmidt said. Fund balances will be updated quarterly.
The new feature is an expansion of an earlier initiative that allowed people to see the state revenue flowing to their cities and counties, she said.
“It’s just to provide that one-stop shop for information,” she said.
Schmidt said it took her staff about six weeks to create the government funds section.
Room for improvement
Dustin Gawrylow, managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network, which advocates smaller government and greater transparency, called the feature “a good step.”
Still, he said the state needs to reduce its number of funds to simplify the system, adding, “Obviously, the more funds there are, the easier it is to try to pull some shenanigans.”
He said the state also needs to improve its revenue projections. General fund revenues from July 2013 through January – the first seven months of the current biennium – were $151 million higher than the May 2013 legislative forecast, the Office of Management and Budget reported earlier this month.
North Dakota ended the last biennium in June 2013 with a $1.4 billion general fund budget surplus and is projected to end the current two-year cycle with a $491 million surplus, through revenues are running well ahead of forecast.
Schmidt said those who can’t find the information they’re seeking on the website should call the office at (701) 328-2643 or email email@example.com.