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Grand Forks residents weigh in on use of money for education, infrastructure

Grand Forks residents said at a Thursday forum in town that they want the state’s Legacy Fund to be able to pay for education and infrastructure both in the short and long term.

“Reinvesting all of that money back into the fund would not be wise if we want to build a legacy with it,” said Jennifer Barnes. “We also need to do things with it now in order to start the legacy.”

For the nearly 40 in attendance, the forum provided a chance to not only voice opinion about the fund’s future, but to learn more about the operations of the fund, which comes from oil and gas taxes.

“I wanted to find out what they were doing with the fund,” said Larry Haeggar, a Grand Forks resident. “I’m interested in the long-term aspects of this fund.”

North Dakota voters approved the Legacy Fund in 2010 as a constitutional amendment, which sets aside 30 percent of revenue from the oil and gas production and extraction tax starting in 2011. State lawmakers cannot touch the fund’s principal or interest and investment earnings until July 1, 2017, with stipulations on how and how much of the funds can be spent in each biennium.

Thursday’s forum is part of the Legacy Fund Initiative, organized by the Great Plains Institute, a nonprofit group specializing in energy policy. Grand Forks was the third of four forums in the state.

Patrice Lahlum, an LFI program director, said the forums will help the initiative craft recommendations for state lawmakers that reflect public consensus.

“We wanted to test drive the recommendations we’ve come up with,” she said. “There is no replacement for citizen reaction in a setting like this.”

LFI members come from all over the state, representing businesses, nonprofit groups and government agencies. Grand Forks area members include Steve Burian, CEO of Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services; Pete Haga, the city of Grand Forks’ community relations officer; and state Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider.

On Thursday, forum participants provided positive and negative feedback on all aspects of the proposed guidelines, purposes and principles of the Legacy Fund.

“I like the idea of scholarships, but I would like to see a way for (the Legacy Fund) to bring tuition costs down,” said Nikki Berg Burin, a Grand Forks resident.

“We have to maintain the infrastructure we already have,” Haeggar said.

Burian, observing the discussion at the forum, said “There were a lot of different opinions and priorities... but most of those priorities lined up with (the Initiative’s). It’s good to see that.”

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