OUR OPINION: Plan now to ensure bright future for N.D.
You couldn't call it a groundswell -- not just yet. But as North Dakotans get used to the idea of living in an oil-rich state, leaders are warming to the notion of a "commission on the future," a dedicated effort to look at the state's options an...
You couldn't call it a groundswell -- not just yet.
But as North Dakotans get used to the idea of living in an oil-rich state, leaders are warming to the notion of a "commission on the future," a dedicated effort to look at the state's options and start listing the pros and cons.
On Sunday, for example, A Dickinson Press editorial on the new Three Forks oil formation sounded a note of support. "While making plans for such an enormous discovery, we urge officials to think about what we want the area to look like 10 and even 50 years down the road," the editorial suggested.
Then on Wednesday, a Bismarck Tribune story took a close look at the prospects of oil tax revenue pouring into the treasury, and found those prospects to be good:
"Crunching the numbers with the assumption that the projected five times-increase in Bakken wells equates to a five-times increase in revenue, it is possible that annual tax revenue from oil and gas alone could amount to $2.5 billion, generating more than the state's biennial budget alone," the story noted.
What will that revenue mean: Tax cuts? Annual payments to state residents, as Alaska provides? A Permanent University Fund as Texas enjoys, a fund that has given Texas one of the biggest university endowments in the world?
One of the questions will be answered in November, the Tribune notes. That's when the Legislature "will ask voters to approve a savings account it is calling the Legacy Fund.
"If voters approve, 30 percent of oil taxes will go into a fund that can't be touched until 2017, when interest can be transferred to the general fund, and only 15 percent of the principal in any biennium. Even if voters agree, that still leaves 70 percent of oil taxes available."
And all of this leads Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, to suggest that North Dakota start thinking about what the future holds.
Meyer, "a member of the legislative interim Budget Section and a House Appropriations subcommittee, says it is time for the state to look much further ahead," the Tribune reported.
"'The biggest danger we face is to think on a short-term basis,' she said. She advocates for a taskforce to develop a 50-year plan focused on recognizing and building up the oil patch so it remains an economic driver. ...
"'The money needs to be put to use today and put into infrastructure, roads and water,' Meyer said. 'That has to happen while we have the surplus, so the surplus can keep happening. All I know is a session every other year for 80 days doesn't do it. There's not enough foresight.'"
In April, a Herald editorial called for a Commission on the Future to study the oil boom, think about the boom's impact and come up with ideas for boosting and sustaining prosperity in the state. The time is right, the momentum is building, the need is growing, and the moment is now.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald