FARGO — North Dakota's Legacy Fund, established in 2010 and fed ever since by 30 percent of the state's monthly oil tax revenue, now stands at just over $6 billion, give or take.
By any measure, that's a lot of portraits of George Washington and the situation has some wondering if it isn't time to do something big with some of the money.
On that question, readers were invited to give their two-cents' worth and more than 130 of them did, via an online survey.
Among ideas receiving the most support was the notion of using the money to benefit education in some fashion, such as paying off or paying down student debt and/or college tuition.
Some respondents suggested that in return for such a step, graduates would agree to live and work in North Dakota.
One respondent wrote: "I really feel that the Legacy Fund should forgive college debt of all institutions in North Dakota. These students ARE our legacy! At least make this available for our future student debt, I don’t have any idea of what is due out there at present."
In all, respondents advocating that Legacy Fund dollars be used to further education numbered about 32.
Using the fund to reduce or eliminate a variety of taxes was also a popular idea, with at least 24 respondents throwing their support behind it.
Paying royalty checks to state residents — "like in Alaska" — was another popular response, with at least 14 people backing the idea.
Some respondents called for the Legacy Fund to address more than one area or constituency, with at least one person advocating for free tuition as well as abolishing the state income tax, "so both sides have something they like."
Another respondent who felt the same way went on to elaborate on the many ways the Legacy Fund might be used, including:
- Buying down property taxes.
- Building a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library.
- Funding higher education and buying down tuition.
- Creating a loan fund for small businesses.
- Off-setting the cost of caring for an aging population in order to allow a larger share of family assets to pass to the next generation.
"There are so many things that can be done," the respondent wrote.
Three people said the Legacy Fund should be left alone to grow.
While there has been no widespread consensus among lawmakers as to what the Legacy Fund should be used for on an ongoing basis, about $200 million in Legacy Fund dollars has already been earmarked to help balance the state's books for the 2017-19 biennium.
By law, a two-thirds vote from the state House and Senate is required to tap up to 15 percent of the fund's principal in any particular biennium.
Legislators in the past two sessions have tapped the Legacy Fund only to balance the state budget, or replenish special funds.
So far, lawmakers have turned aside several proposals, including a slate of suggestions made by Gov. Doug Burgum.
The governor's suggestions included putting $50 million of the fund toward a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, though lawmakers came up with a different funding plan and $80 million in revolving loan funds to spur $535 million in infrastructure and school construction.
Of the approximately 130 online readers who responded to the survey on the question of what to do with Legacy Fund dollars, less than five people advocated using some of the money for a presidential library.