BISMARCK — A North Dakota Senate committee has voted to study potential uses of Legacy Fund dollars rather than push forward with a proposal to make it harder for lawmakers to tap the earnings from the state's oil tax piggy bank.
The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee voted to replace House Concurrent Resolution 3055 with a legislative study Monday, April 15, said committee chairman Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan.
The original resolution would have required earnings from the Legacy Fund to be transferred back to its principal rather than the state's general fund, where it's up for grabs in the Legislature. It would have also required a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to spend the earnings.
The resolution would have amended the state's constitution and required voter approval.
Cook said he liked the idea of reinvesting the earnings but didn't think it should be written into the state constitution. He said a study would allow for more public input.
The amended resolution asks lawmakers to consider creating a special committee to study potential uses of Legacy Fund earnings, including tax relief, research advancements and workforce development. The study would take place between regular legislative sessions held every other year.
"Legacy Fund earnings have been probably one of the most discussed topics this session," Cook said. "It seemed at the beginning of this session, everybody had an idea of what to do with it."
Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said his chamber is seeking to budget about $164 million in earnings to balance the state's books and replenish a constitutional education fund. On Tuesday morning, he offered a revamped plan for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library that doesn't use Legacy Fund earnings.
"We want to think this out real carefully," Wardner said.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said they're "still deliberating" on Legacy Fund spending this session.
As approved by voters in 2010, the Legacy Fund takes 30% of the state's oil and gas tax revenue. Its principal has grown to more than $6 billion, which state officials invest.
As of the end of February, the Legacy Fund had generated $415 million in earnings for this biennium, said David Hunter, the executive director of the North Dakota Retirement and Investment Office. But that number could change in the final months before the end of the budget cycle, when earnings are transferred to the general fund.
Grand Forks Democratic Rep. Corey Mock, the primary sponsor of the resolution, said he plans to fight for the "spirit" of the original proposal. He argued the Legislature should be required to take "positive action" to spend Legacy Fund earnings.
The full Senate is expected to consider the study amendment this week.