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North Dakota political notebook: Letter about ‘surge’ funding ND bill sparks blowback

Bismarck - House lawmakers will get their first shot Wednesday at the $1.1 billion “surge” funding bill, and officials in some oil-impacted counties that would benefit most from the money aren’t taking kindly to a letter seeking specifics on their tax situations and planned construction projects.
“We’ve had a lot of blowback on that,” House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said Friday.
The letter was sent by Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood. He chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which is set to take up Senate Bill 2103 at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Brynhild Haugland Room, the Capitol’s biggest meeting room.
The letter asks oil-producing counties and their larger cities how they plan to use the surge funds, how much they need before June 30 and for a detailed list of shovel-ready projects and their estimated costs.
Delzer also requested information on their mill levies, taxable valuations, property tax collections and building permit values.
Delzer said Friday the committee “has always looked hard at any funding decision,” and the information is needed to make a proper decision about the surge funding.
House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, said he had heard from officials from at least three counties frustrated by the request.
“They’re just saying, ‘We’ve provided that information, why do we need to continue to do that?’” he said
Carlson said the version of SB2103 that emerges from the House will likely look different from the bill fast-tracked through the Senate on 44-2 vote Jan. 30.
Specifically, he said the $300 million for state highway projects that senators added to the bill – a compromise on the $450 million that Gov. Jack Dalrymple had proposed in his competing “jumpstart” bill, which failed on the Senate floor – should probably be in the Department of Transportation’s budget.
Delzer said the bill will have to be “married up” with the budgets for the DOT and Department of Trust Lands and with House Bill 1176, the proposal to change the oil production tax revenue distribution formula to boost oil counties’ share from 25 percent to 60 percent.
The timing is difficult, Carlson and Delzer said, because the committee also will be trying to finish work on agency budgets and other major spending issues in the next two weeks.
But they said the goal is still to pass the surge bill by crossover, which is Feb. 27.
“Only time will tell,” Carlson said.
Common Core to hit House floor
One of the most controversial bills to hit the House floor this week will be House Bill 1461, which would require North Dakota to drop the Common Core education standards and develop its own.
The House Education Committee voted 9-4 Wednesday to slap a do-not-pass recommendation on the bill.
Its chairman, Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, said the feeling among the majority was that the standards are only in their second year of implementation and the education community largely supports them, based on testimony from Monday’s hearing.
The other major reason for opposing the bill, he said, was that it “guts” the authority of the state superintendent of public instruction.
“That weighed very heavily on the committee’s mind,” he said.
Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

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