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Santa will stop this time

After decades of flyovers, Santa Claus has finally landed in North Dakota. We deserve it. We came to this barren land to convert the stubborn sod into fields of golden grain. It was hard. Some couldn't handle it and went back to the old country. ...

After decades of flyovers, Santa Claus has finally landed in North Dakota. We deserve it. We came to this barren land to convert the stubborn sod into fields of golden grain. It was hard. Some couldn't handle it and went back to the old country. But the rest persevered through scorching summers and winter blizzards on these treeless plains. We believed, and Santa Claus has finally come.

It isn't as though we invited him. With self-imposed frontier austerity, we conditioned ourselves with doing more with less and often doing less with less. It will be difficult to accept the bounty left under the tree.

Behind the Santa mask in the red suit is none other than the prophet of prosperity, Gov. John Hoeven, the only governor in state history with the privilege of providing goodies for every need. As Santa read his list to the recent legislative reorganization session, the legislators thought they were on LSD or some other mind-expanding drug.

It was an occasion of "shock and awe" for the most conservative of members. They were overcome as the governor rattled off Santa's list. They pinched themselves, expecting to wake up in the old land of austerity where they were most comfortable. Nevertheless, Santa went on.

There would be a property tax cut of $300 million passed through the schools, another $100 million for the schools to keep for themselves, a gift of $170 million for higher education, $100 million for water projects, money for those battered roads in the oil counties to keep that black gold pouring into the state coffers, a bunch of money for other special projects, a transfusion for the highway system, and an estimated $1 billion left for the 2011 legislative session.

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Everyone was elated - including the tax cutters. Santa threw them an income tax cut even though it was unnecessary and undeserved. It was a morsel they had not expected. The voters had just refused to accept that gift in the November election so that Santa could plan a good Christmas for everyone. There will be no picketing at the Capitol this session. The gift list left no one to complain.

As Republicans and Democrats went home from the reorganizational meeting, they realized that they had very little to fight about. Since taxing and spending have always been the divisive issues since statehood, the 2009 session will have to occupy its time with mundane maintenance bills and amending forgotten laws. It hardly seems worth having a session this time.

Instead of enjoying the moment, some are already worrying that North Dakota will fall into a lifestyle it cannot sustain. They fear that the oil wells may run dry; Canadians may quit shopping; earth warming may ruin crops; Congress may cut funding; the economic downturn may drain our treasury, etc. More than a century of asceticism has made us a worrisome and fretful people.

There is no need for alarm. The same resilience that conquered the prairies will be here to cope with any future adversities. If necessary, we can "make do" again. Until then, let's rebuild roads, improve education, lighten college tuition, develop water resources, cut taxes, and still save a bunch for the root cellar, just in case.

Eat your heart out, Minnesota.

Omdahl is former ND lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail ndmatters@q.com

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