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Posted 12/05/12 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

When everything is going your way, it’s pretty darn hard not to be in line for some pretty nice accolades. And the state of North Dakota recently picked up a very nice honor when the online financial firm, 24/7 Wall St., picked the state as the nation’s best-run state.
The national study looked at data on financial health, standard of living and government services to determine how well each state is managed. The top five best-run states were: North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah and Iowa.
The study determines how well states are run by looking at fiscal management, taxes, exports, and GDP growth by sectors, as well as, quality of life components such as poverty, income, unemployment, high school graduation, crime and foreclosure rates. All of the best- run states had certain characteristics in common, including well-managed budgets, high education levels and low unemployment. The study also reports that each of the top 10 states has a perfect or near-perfect credit rating.
Being tapped as the nation’s best-run state is obviously something that North Dakota can be proud of. And our state leaders were quick to claim the credit for the ranking.
Without a doubt, Gov. Dalrymple and the North Dakota Legislature have had a hand in setting the tone for the state’s economy. But in reality, there is something going on in western North Dakota that is pouring millions of dollars into the state’s coffers, keeping our unemployment at the lowest in the nation, and providing the extra dollars to keep our property taxes low and still have millions of dollars left to make huge improvements in the state’s educational system and infrastructure.
And that something is energy development. More specifically, the development of the oil and natural gas reserves in the Bakken.
The development of the Bakken formation in western North Dakota has been a “real game changer” for North Dakota’s economy. And one shudders to think what the state’s economy would be like today if oil companies hadn’t been willing to invest the billions of dollars it took to develop this resource.
Obviously, our state leaders have done what they needed to do to foster and encourage the safe development of these oil and gas reserves. And now the state is reaping the rewards, not only financially, but also by bucking the downward national economic trends and receiving great national press as well.
But the real test to gauge whether or not the term “best-run” state is deserved will be determined during this, and future, legislative sessions when our elected leaders decide how to best use their newfound wealth.
Gov. Dalrymple has indicated that he would like to see a substantial portion of the oil revenues be returned to the counties which are being most hard hit by the energy development. Hopefully, that means a lot more money to maintain our roads, build needed water and sewer systems for the cities that are facing unprecedented population growth, upgrade our law enforcement, fire and ambulance services, as well as helping local schools and hospitals build new facilities.
Hopefully, our state leaders in the Legislature will also realize that it is the cities like Watford City and Williston and counties like Mc-
Kenzie and Williams which are truly bearing the brunt of all of this development, and desperately need the financial help that they are asking for to meet the growing demands.
Meeting the immediate and projected needs of western North Dakota must be the No. 1 priority for the state of North Dakota this session.
If our state leaders can deliver on that, then they will have truly earned the “best-run” honor.