Posted 2/26/20 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
Thanks to the support of North Dakota voters in 2010, 30 percent of the state’s oil tax have been deposited into a Legacy Fund that has now grown to nearly $7 billion. Since its creation, the fund could not be touched until 2017, and now the state’s Legislature has the ability to tap into those earnings to fund any project that it desires.
But what should those Legacy Funds be used for? Should they be used to balance the state’s budget as has been done in the past? Or should they be used to fund programs and services that will serve state residents today, as well as future generations of North Dakotans?
Answering those questions and preparing a blueprint for how to invest those earnings is the daunting task facing the North Dakota Legislature’s interim Legacy Fund Earnings Committee, which held a committee meeting in Watford City last week to gain the insight of northwestern North Dakotans on where they see the needs.
While the committee will be holding more meetings across the state to get more public comment, during last week’s meeting in Watford City, it was very clear where western North Dakotans believe these funds should go. And what came out loud and clear was that a portion of the Legacy Fund needs to help fund the construction of new schools in the state’s oil patch, as well as helping counties and townships with building and maintaining their road systems that are being used by the oil and gas industry.
The Legacy Fund owes its tremendous growth in funds to the income that has come from oil taxes. And the only place in North Dakota that is bearing the brunt of all of the energy development is the cities and counties where this development is occurring. It’s places like Watford City and McKenzie County, Williston and Williams County, that have seen the greatest impacts from this energy development. These areas, as well as others in the oil patch, have seen huge population increases, been forced to build and remodel existing schools to meet record student enrollments, and have seen their road systems crumble under the heavy traffic.
Yes, the Legacy Fund can be used to create unique programs that will enhance the future for generations to come. But, as the Legacy Fund Earnings Committee prepares its recommendations to the North Dakota Legislature on where the Legacy Fund can be best invested, it must be mindful that these funds are also needed by the cities, counties and school districts, that continue to deal with the day-to-day challenges that they are experiencing.
There is no better investment in a portion of the Legacy Fund earnings than to make sure that the oil-impacted region of North Dakota has the financial resources to build and maintain roads, build new schools, and bring quality of life to the thousands of new residents to these communities.