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The race is on in District 39

Posted 10/20/10 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Two long-term Republican members of the North Dakota House of Representatives from District 39, David “Skip” Drovdal of Arnegard and Keith Kempenich of Bowman, will be facing their first political challenge in many years during the 2010 General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 2
Democrat Aaron Judkins of Watford City is mounting his first campaign for public office and is seeking to replace one of the two incumbent Republicans.
This week, a part of the McKenzie County Farmer’s coverage of the local and state races that area voters will be deciding next month, we asked each of the candidates running for the District 39 House of Representatives to respond to a series of questions dealing with issues that are important to the residents of this legislative district.
Next week, the Farmer will carry similar candidate profiles in the County Auditor and County Commissioner races.
The questions posed to each candidate and their responses follows.

Improving and maintaining state roads in western North Dakota is a big problem. What action should the State of North Dakota take to improve the highway system?
Drovdal: The State must be vigilant in maintaining safe roads in western North Dakota. During the last session the legislature approved the highest funding level in our history for state highways. We have seen some of that in the fact if you have traveled out of town this summer there has been construction in every direction. There is more to be done. Traffic is wearing down the roads as fast as they can be repaired and as an elected official it is important that legislators, city officials and county commissioners work together to prioritize the needs to continue investing in western North Dakota highways.
Kempenich: Four years ago the state started spending more of the excise tax over and above what was needed to match Federal Highway dollars. Weather plays a big part in how these dollars are spent. In 2009, $59.9 million was added to the State Highway Fund and another $43 million was  put in the Adjutant General’s budget for snow expense and maintenance. The DOT budget went over $1 billion in 09-11, with District 39 as a priority on Highway 85 and US 12 with maintenance thin overlays on 16 and South 85. There is more to do and we keep District 39 roads on the front burner in the Legislature.
Judkins: The State needs to make sure that the roads are safe; the safety of the citizens should be the main priority. And the State can make sure these roads are safe by making sure they are built to handle the heavy traffic that we are currently seeing in western North Dakota. They also need to make sure that the roads that can’t be rebuilt are maintained properly.
I think that the biggest action that the State needs to take on improving the highway system in western North Dakota is four-laning Highway 85. This would make travel for our citizens safer, and it would open a major north-south trade corridor in western North Dakota. A major trade route in this region would open up new markets for this region’s energy and agriculture exports.
Improving the highway system in western North Dakota needs to be a  priority in the legislature; the much needed improvements to our roads would not only improve safety for our motorists, it would also allow our oil and gas industry to continue to prosper.

During the last legislative session the state changed the funding formula for cities, schools and county government that receive oil revenue. In your opinion is the formula working or does it need to be changed?
Kempenich: For the most part, it is working. There has been over a 50 percent increase in funds coming back to the counties, cities and schools. But like any formula there  could be some changes in the percentages. And if the Legacy Fund is passed, we will have to make sure that the impact is not to the counties.
Judkins:  In my opinion the funding formula needs to be changed yet again. The current formula put a cap on how much funding cities and counties can receive. The cap also did not allow for schools to receive additional funding. I believe that the cap is too low for  cities and counties to properly deal with the impact from the increased oil activity. I believe that the previous legislative session underestimated the amount of oil activity in North Dakota, and they underestimated the impact that the increased activity has on areas in western North Dakota, like McKenzie County. That underestimation hurt cities and counties in western North Dakota because they could not keep up with the costs that come along with the increase in oil activity.
Drovdal: In the 2009 session, the legislature increased the dollars for oil and gas counties, cities and schools by close to 50 percent or $28 million. At that time oil activity had leveled off and actually slowed down due to lower crude oil prices. Information was not available that would have foreseen an increase of activity to the level we now have. In hindsight, we needed to do more. I am confident that the legislature will increase the funding and I am going to work hard to see that it is done.

Cities in western North Dakota are struggling to meet the infrastructure needs associated with more people moving into these communities. What role should the state have in helping these communities meet housing and infrastructure needs?
Judkins: The State needs to help these communities defray some of the cost of their infrastructure needs. The infrastructure and housing needs in many of these western North Dakota cities are simply too large to be dealt with solely by the cities. The State needs to make sure that every city has access to the sufficient infrastructure that they need.
We cannot expect the cities to pick up the entire tab on the infrastructure projects that are needed in these areas. The cities just pass the cost on to the taxpayers, and they should not be punished due to the need for improved infrastructure in their city.
And when it comes to the housing crisis in many western North Dakota cities it will require that all parties involved work together to find a solution to the problem. The State along with counties, cities and the companies bringing in workers all need to be part of the solution. The housing problem is simply too large to be dealt with by only one entity.
Drovdal: Currently the State has programs to help with housing but it is directed mostly at low income households and we know oil-related jobs are not low income. The State could provide low interest loans, tax credits, incentives and property tax relief for all income levels. We could also provide a pool of money for families who have low credit ratings due to recession circumstances.
Kempenich: The housing issue is a multi-factor problem in western North Dakota. The prices are a burden to Main Street people and energy-related folks cannot find housing. The State changed the NDHF rules so manufactured homes would qualify for loans. But outside of tax credits or loans, I think the State will stay out of direct involvement in housing. On infrastructure, with the oil taxes coming back to the local political subdivisions there should be the resources to address these concerns. But the State could look at supporting bulk purchases of material (culverts, water lines and sewer lines, etc.) And also the continuation of the NWWA project and the movement of water.

With the state projecting over a $1 billion surplus, what areas of tax relief do you believe the taxpayers should expect?
Drovdal: The State needs to continue funding the property tax relief we started two years ago. Additional income tax reductions for both individuals and corporations would encourage more investment in North Dakota and hopefully help diversify the economic base of the state. I do believe that some should be set aside for future needs instead of growing the size of government by spending it all now.
Kempenich: The surplus is a liquid number. There is a commitment of $300 million to Property Tax relief, but with no real way of controlling local political subdivisions the tax relief varies. There was also $100 million from the change in percentage on the Income tax. I think that as long as the Legislature watches how it appropriates the funds and with ongoing revenue to ongoing appropriations and with one time revenue going to one time appropriation, the Legislature shouldn’t burden the tax payer any more than it already does.
Judkins: I believe that the main form of tax relief that the taxpayers should expect is continued property tax relief. Property tax relief has been dealt with in previous legislative sessions but they have only come up with short-term solutions to a long-term problem. The most recent property tax relief given by the Legislature is set to expire. And this next legislative session is time for the Legislature to finally act on a permanent form of property tax relief.

If you could share one message with the voters of District 39 as to why they should elect you to serve them in the North Dakota Legislature, what would it be?
Kempenich: First, I would like to thank the good citizens of District 39 for supporting me in the past. I work well with the other legislators from District 39 and I have been able to get things done for the district whether it be in McKenzie County or Adams County using common sense to govern.
Judkins: My message to the voters of District 39 is a simple one, and it is that our current representatives are two long time politicians that time after time continue to put their party and their political agenda before the best interests of the voters. It is my belief that all citizens deserve to have their voices heard, and they all deserve to be represented equally. Partisan politics does not work, and that is why I will work with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in order to accomplish the important things that need to get done in the Legislature.
If elected, I will be a representative that works for the people, and put their best interests first. It is time for the voters of this district to have someone in the Legislature fighting for them.
Drovdal: I have owned and operated a business for 30 years, farmed for 16 of those years, and have worked for others that included independent bookkeeper, sugar beet worker, city custodian, office manager and 18 years as a legislator. I have been involved in my community as a member of both Arnegard and Watford City fire departments, served on the ambulance board, city council, church council, Good Shepherd Home board, Bible camp board, Chamber of Commerce, Jaycees, and as an EMT for the local ambulance service. I have the desire and the energy to serve as your representative and would appreciate your support.