McFeely: Let's call it what it is: fiscal mismanagement on the part of ND Republicans
FARGO—It seems so long ago, those heady days at the height of the North Dakota oil boom. Money was flowing, the state was growing and Republicans were crowing. They had it all figured out. North Dakota was the envy of the nation, they said. Every other state wanted to be North Dakota, they said. If every other state was smart, they said, they'd do things just like Republicans in North Dakota were doing.
It was all about low taxes and getting the heck out of the way of the oil boys and letting them do their thing. That was the way to do business. Cut, cut, cut. Income taxes, corporate taxes, oil taxes. Cut 'em. And if the oil companies spill a few thousand barrels or bend a few rules, cut 'em some slack. Slap them on the wrist. Just keep them happy and the money, and the good times, will continue to flow.
It worked for awhile. North Dakota Smug replaced North Dakota Nice as the state's personality. Every other state, especially the liberal ones, were finally getting their comeuppance. They were envious of North Dakota and all that wealth. Republicans couldn't claim credit for the state's prosperity fast enough. They owned it, they said.
How about now? Do they own this, too? Because, at last check, the Republicans still have a super-majority and have been solely in charge of making decisions for the state for, oh, a couple of decades now. There isn't much crowing coming from Bismarck lately.
That's because North Dakota is in the midst of a man-made and unnecessary budget crisis created by the party that's had total control to do whatever it's wanted. Nearly every part of state government is getting sliced and diced.
The party of alleged fiscal responsibility became the party of fiscal mismanagement.
It's almost as if the economic good fortune of North Dakota was based on the price of oil and corn and not the genius leadership of Jack Dalrymple, Al Carlson, Rich Wardner and Co.
The Republicans became the party of cut and spend, throwing money around like drunken sailors (because, mostly, they had to) while cutting taxes (because, totally, they wanted to). It's a formula that was never sustainable, given the fickle nature of commodities and the forever nature of tax cuts.
The Republicans ignored the super-minority Democrats, and even some level heads in their own party, when some voices were saying to slow down on the tax cuts. "We know best," was the response.
Here's how well they knew best: Because the state has a massive shortfall, a property tax buydown championed by Republicans is going away. It's likely North Dakota property taxes will rise sharply next year. The good old boys club played a shell game with property taxes and lost. And now you're going to pay.
Already the stage is being set to blame local governments for any hike in property taxes. But the truth is Republicans own it, even if they're not going to claim it.
Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5379.