$1.6 billion: ND budget surplus continues to zoom

Associated Press Modified: September 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm •  Published: September 19, 2012

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's estimated budget surplus has mushroomed to $1.6 billion, analysts said Wednesday, which Gov. Jack Dalrymple credited largely to sales tax collections from the prosperous oil economy.

The amount is almost 40 percent of North Dakota's present state general fund spending. In July, analysts pegged the surplus at $850 million.

As impressive as the number is — more than $2,300 for every North Dakota resident — it's an understatement of the revenue gushing into the state's treasury. It excludes $1.9 billion in three restricted state funds and $1 billion that has been set aside for public works projects and property tax cuts.

"Even the professional forecasters would not have expected the kind of commercial activity, the kind of sales tax collections, that we have seen," Dalrymple said.

The new estimates predict how much revenue the state will have when its current two-year budget period ends June 30. Dalrymple will present his spending recommendations to the Legislature in four months.

The numbers, crafted by state agencies and a national economic consultancy, were presented Wednesday to a legislative committee that has been contemplating proposals for large public-works projects.

"I hope they're correct. We certainly don't want to overestimate our income, and be in a position where it doesn't come through," said Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "If you look at the history of the last couple of years, it will probably come through."

The largest restricted state fund is the Legacy Fund, which voters created two years ago to stash a portion of North Dakota's oil tax collections. In June, forecasters expect the fund will contain almost $1.2 billion. It can't be touched for another five years.

North Dakota has risen to No. 2 among the nation's oil-producing states behind Texas, with a fivefold increase in production since 2007. It supplies about 11 percent of the nation's monthly oil output, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

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