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North Dakota Senate rejects infrastructure proposal

BISMARCK — State senators rejected legislation Thursday, Jan. 31, that sought to create a revolving loan fund with Legacy Fund dollars for North Dakota infrastructure projects.

The North Dakota Senate rejected Senate Concurrent Resolution 4005 in an 11-34 vote. Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, introduced the plan in mid-January to the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, which recommended a unanimous "do not pass."

SCR4005 would have created the North Dakota First Fund from transfers of Legacy Fund principal and earnings. The fund would have been administered for infrastructure projects by a nine-member board of local officials, including mayors and county commissioners.

Hogue has pointed to a handful of billion-dollar water projects as the need for the revolving loan fund, such as the $2.75 billion Fargo-Moorhead area flood diversion.

Sen. Jordan Kannianen, R-Stanley, carried the bill and commended Hogue's focus on improving infrastructure, but said the $1 billion at play and who would administer that money were issues.

"It would be a large fund very fast, and to have that amount of the principal and earnings under the direction of a separate nine-member board, that's one of the main concerns," Kannianen said.

No specified caps on loans and grants were also concerns, he added.

"I think there is legitimate concern as well that the principal that had been in the Legacy Fund isn't as well protected or is more at risk in this type of a fund administered in this way," Kannianen said.

Infrastructure has become a focus of North Dakota lawmakers' 2019 session. Kannianen noted other similar proposals still on the table this session.

One of the most prominent is House Bill 1066, or "Operation Prairie Dog," which would fund up to $280 million per biennium from oil tax revenue for infrastructure projects for North Dakota cities, counties, townships and airports outside the state's Oil Patch.

Also, Senate Bill 2275 proposes a low-interest revolving loan fund for North Dakota cities and some counties to supplement funding proposed in HB1066.

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