Posted 1/26/11 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
After serving in the North Dakota Legislature for the past nine legislative sessions, David Drovdal, District 39 Representative and North Dakota Speaker of the House, knows that things don’t happen fast in the North Dakota Legislature, nor do they always follow what some people would think of as the most logical path.
But, by the end of each legislative session, Drovdal believes that the legislature finds the money to take care of the state’s needs.
So with the state of North Dakota being flush with cash, does Drovdal see this as being an easier session, especially when it comes to making sure that more state funds flow into helping the areas of North Dakota being impacted by energy development?
Drovdal’s answer is a quick, “no.”
“It is going to be a very stressful session right up until the very end,” predicts Drovdal. “Every project you can dream of is being asked to be funded by the Legislature. We are being bombarded by requests to build new schools, college buildings, as well as to fund new state programs and to expand existing programs. Everyone wants a piece of the money.”
And cities, counties and schools in the oil-impacted regions of northwest North Dakota are among those that are hopeful that the North Dakota Legislature will provide them with extra financial help.
“The governor’s budget was very open-minded about the needs of western North Dakota,” states Drovdal. “But it also looked at other pressing state needs, and in the process, the governor’s budget basically spent all the money that was available.”
And that, according to Drovdal, has created a rub within the state’s Legislature.
“The rub is that the Legislature wants to have its say in how the money is going to be spent as well,” states Drovdal. “We are scrutinizing the governor’s budget.”
But that said, Drovdal feels confident that the schools, counties and cities of western North Dakota are going to see help in meeting the growing demands that are being placed upon them.
“Locally, the governor’s budget left intact the oil and gas funds which automatically provide for a $70 million increase to counties, cities and schools,” states Drovdal. “In addition, he asked for $92 million to assist small communities in the oil-impacted areas and another $248 million to the North Dakota Dept. of Transportation for road improvements in western North Dakota.”
However, according to Drovdal, there have already been several bills introduced that affect the governor’s budget.
“One bill, HB 1458, is an alternative to the governor’s budget for funding oil impact,” states Drovdal. “The big change with this bill is that it would move control of the money from the Land Department to a committee that is appointed by the Legislative Council. While it incorporates all the money from the governor’s budget, it also adds other funds. The downside to the HB 1458 is that any agency from across the state can apply for the funds.”
Although Drovdal was one of the co-sponsors of HB 1458, he has some big concerns with the legislation.
“The bill was going to be introduced whether I was a co-sponsor or not,” states Drovdal. “I felt that by being a co-sponsor I would be in a better position to make changes to the bill before it gets to the floor.”
Another concern that Drovdal has with HB 1458 is that takes away a school district’s ability to receive any oil impact grants.
“The bill does make the schools hold harmless on the funding they got two years ago, but that is minor,” states Drovdal. “It also includes funding that the school gets for federal flood relief and gives it to the county. In the past, the schools received less than the value of the land that was flooded. But with oil drilling under the lake they would start to make up the difference.”
One of the issues that the Legislature will need to address this session, according to Drovdal, is providing financial assistance to school districts being impacted by growth as a result of the energy development.
Currently, school districts can only access money through the County Infrastructure Fund for bus replacement and bus repairs. And that is something that Drovdal hopes will change.
“HB 1070 would have fixed that issue,” states Drovdal. “But although the bill had unanimous support from the committee, it was killed on the House floor.”
But, according to Drovdal, a companion bill to HB 1070 has been introduced in the Senate. Under the Senate version, impacted school districts would be able to apply to the County Infrastructure Fund for financial assistance other than buses.
“There are always bumps in the road when the Legislature is dealing with bills and money,” states Drovdal. “And the bumps are always scary. But they are just part of the process.”
In the end, Drovdal feels confident that the Legislature will come up with the right funding to deal with the impacts being felt by the cities, counties and schools in western North Dakota’s oil patch.
“The majority of the legislators are sympathetic with what’s happening out here,” states Drovdal. “We just have to get through the process.”