North Dakota GOP Unveils Oil Patch Spending Plan

By Politics Associated Press

North Dakota Republicans on Wednesday unveiled an $800 million one-time spending plan to address immediate problems tied to the oil boom in the western part of the state.

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Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said flanked by other GOP legislators from the state's oil-producing region, said the "surge funding" will be a priority when the Legislature meets in January.

"This will help us win the war against the impacts," he said at the state Capitol in Bismarck.

The plan was created after numerous meetings between lawmakers and local officials this summer, Wardner said.

The proposal includes $475 million to oil-producing counties and cities; $140 million to oil patch hub cities of Williston, Dickinson and Minot; $35 million to county schools affected by oil development; and $150 million for road projects outside of the oil patch.

North Dakota's newfound oil riches have resulted in unprecedented demands for spending on roads, schools, public works, law enforcement and emergency medical services. Wardner said the biggest need in the state's oil patch is for affordable housing for workers.

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"We want these skilled people to stay and invest in North Dakota," he said.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said infrastructure needs and a shortage of workers are the biggest challenges facing North Dakota's energy sector. The state has more than 25,000 unfilled jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, at less than 3 percent.

Ness said that "affordable housing is critical, clear and simple."

Money for the GOP proposal will come from the state's Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund, which is funded in part with oil and gas taxes. The fund has grown far faster than forecast and has a more than $1 billion balance.

The GOP's $800 million proposal will be fast-tacked in the Legislature so money will be available to cities and communities by next summer, Wardner said.

Republicans wield supermajority control in the Legislature.

Democratic Sen. Connie Triplett, of Grand Forks, attended Wednesday's announcement. She said in an interview that most lawmakers in her party likely will back the plan. Democrats, she said, have been saying for years that funding wasn't adequate.

"This should have been done four years ago," she said.

Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple in April rejected a plea by Democrats for a special legislative session to address funding problems tied to the oil boom. Dalrymple has said the state has invested nearly $4 billion in the oil patch since 2011 to deal with rapid growth, and he was confident it would provide additional financial assistance.

Democrats also 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. Democrats have pushed to revamp the split to 60-40 in favor of local governments.

Wardner said Republicans would release their tax revenue plan next week.

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