RALPH KINGSBURY: Recession singes but doesn't burn North Dakota
For the first time since I have been writing this column, I have not included the table showing building permit values. Part of the reason for not doing so is the availability of the data. Another reason is that there really were not enough stati...
For the first time since I have been writing this column, I have not included the table showing building permit values. Part of the reason for not doing so is the availability of the data. Another reason is that there really were not enough statistics, especially on new construction and repairs for homes and commercial buildings.
As I looked at that and then also considered some other important data I often do not have room for, I felt this was a good time to devote that space to other tables.
Besides the finding of very little building activity, the other table that gives me concern for Grand Forks is the report on border crossings. There may be reasons for a fall-off from last year, such as a particular event that was held last year. I'm not sure, except to say it was not the World Curling Championship, because that was in April.
The fall-off also does not appear to have hurt the number of motel stays. Maybe those Canadians who normally would have gone on to Fargo or the Twin Cities decided to stay here.
In the end, except for the slowdown in major construction categories, Grand Forks and North Dakota continue to weather this recession very well.
As I was researching the statistics to present in this month's column, I thought this might be a good chance to review changes taking place across North Dakota and to some degree northwest Minnesota.
I barely got Microsoft Word booted up before I heard about Bobcat's layoff of 250 more of the highest paid workers in the state. As I've mentioned before, the more we became successful in making our state's economy look like the rest of the country, the more we might regret that success.
That day is here, not only for the Bobcats in our economy, but also for some smaller firms, especially those having anything to do with the international economy. That's now coming to mean this area's agriculture and agribusiness firms, too.
With luck as well as good legislative and gubernatorial planning, North Dakota has avoided the pitfalls that other state and local governments find themselves in. Our private sector has been lucky that way, too. We went into this problem with good budget surpluses and have seen the changes occur while the Legislature is in session.
Some are critical of our Legislature being too reactive. That may be true, but I would much rather be able to make decisions from this situation than from the one involving a huge budget deficit, as is the case in Minnesota.
So, what is happening in North Dakota? In the first place, we know that income in the state is in a sharp decline today, even if some of my tables dating to 2007 don't show it. High input costs and much lower crop revenues have to mean a dramatic decline in revenues -- not only for our farmers, but also for all of those whose livelihoods depend on farm-income dollars.
Although we don't have final figures yet, we do know that repairing our infrastructure from spring flooding will be very expensive. In fact, it will use up a great deal of our surplus and our stimulus money. Our wealth will disappear right in front of our eyes. It really will.
I still hope -- in fact, I expect as a article of faith -- that the Legislature has addressed the property tax situation in a meaningful and permanent way; in other words, that the state's new commitment to picking up a bigger share of local costs will be permanent.
In the future, property taxes should be used only to raise money for very closely defined and controlled local-government needs.
Simply stated, education -- the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic -- should be a function of the state. Some of the functions of county government will be, too (I hope).
For instance, state dollars should be used to maintain certain "farm to market" roads. I don't mean that every county can designate whatever roads they want as farm to market roads. I do mean that every country has a need for a minimum number of these types of roads.
I know these decisions will be difficult, but after all, that is what we pay lawmakers the big money for.
So, look at these tables. This situation is the result of prudent fiscal planning as well as a fortunate set of circumstances. If we cannot find good answers to our problems in times such as this, we'll likely never find them at all.
Kingsbury can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .