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ND Dems want special session to address oil impact

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm •  Published: February 24, 2014
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BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Gov. Jack Dalrymple should call a special session of the Legislature to address funding problems tied to western North Dakota's oil boom, some Democratic lawmakers say.

In a letter to Dalrymple on Monday, the lawmakers said the additional funding can't wait for the start of the 2015 Legislature in January.

"The affected western counties do not think that the current funding level is adequate to meet the demand for services they are facing," the letter says. "If the present state funding levels do not change, many local leaders and residents fear that Western North Dakota may never catch up to the pace of oil and gas development. "

North Dakota's newfound oil riches have resulted in unprecedented demands for spending on roads, schools, public works, law enforcement and emergency medical services. The state's current two-year budget including federal aid is $14 billion, or about $10 billion more than a decade ago.

The Republican governor was attending a national energy conference in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

"The governor has an open mind," Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said.

Zent said Dalrymple "intends to talk with legislators from both parties about what can be accomplished for oil country in the short term, whether it is administratively or through legislative action."

The letter was signed by Senate Democratic Minority Leader Mac Schneider of Grand Forks, House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad of Parshall and Sen. John Warner of Ryder. Onstad and Warner's districts are in western North Dakota.

Onstad told The Associated Press that he and other Democrats want to revamp a formula used to distribute the state's oil and gas production tax revenue. The fund currently sets aside 75 percent to the state and 25 percent to local governments.

Ontstad there is a push to revamp the split to 60-40 in favor of local governments, for at least "two to three years."

The Democrats said communities in western North Dakota are reaching bonding limits and don't have the funding to complete needed projects.

The reworked funding formula "would get us caught up and somewhat healed up," Onstad said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said tax revenue from oil and gas development in North Dakota is running well ahead of projections for the current two-year budget cycle that began July 1. He said the additional revenue should help local governments handle oil-development problems until the Legislature begins its regular session in January.

"More money is coming this biennium," said Wardner, whose district is part of the state's oil producing region. "There is no doubt there are needs out there."

Dalrymple last called a special session in 2011. Lawmakers finished the five-day special session after endorsing, among other things, $30 million in public works grants for local governments whose infrastructure is strained by oil development and about $700,000 to hire four new Highway Patrol officers to monitor western North Dakota's oil traffic.

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Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/macphersonja


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