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N.D. Forecast shows positive marks

BISMARCK - North Dakota legislators have an extra $7.4 million to work with, state number crunchers told them Tuesday morning. State Budget Director Pam Sharp said the newest revenue projections show the fourth quarter of 2006 and the Christmas s...

BISMARCK - North Dakota legislators have an extra $7.4 million to work with, state number crunchers told them Tuesday morning.

State Budget Director Pam Sharp said the newest revenue projections show the fourth quarter of 2006 and the Christmas shopping season helped boost the amount of revenue the state expects to bring in before the current biennium ends June 30 by $6.1 million. The last forecast had been issued in November.

The updated revenue forecast also shows a tiny up-tick in what had been projected for the 2007-09 biennium-$1.3 million extra.

"It's tracking quite nicely," Sharp said of the November forecast's accuracy. Corporate income tax projections also help drive the higher expectations, she said.

But Sharp noted that national forecasts for car sales have caused her to scale back projections in North Dakota motor vehicle excise tax revenue.

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The tax, essentially a sales tax on cars and trucks, has been missing projections since the current biennium began July 1, 2005. It's believed gas prices that began rising about that time cooled the demand for higher-price tag trucks and SUVs, and the trend has been noted nationally.

Most other revenue streams show little to no change in the new projections. The new projections do not show a change in oil tax revenue expectations. The state Budget Office already had assumed last fall that the 2006 average price of North Dakota crude - $55 per barrel - would decline gradually and end up at an average $40 per barrel by June 30, 2009.

Gov. John Hoeven said the slight growth in the revenue forecast assures funds for the priorities he wrote into his budget, which legislators are now considering.

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