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Posted 2/17/15 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Representative Al Carlson (R-Fargo) stepped way beyond the line of decency last week when he said on a radio program that western North Dakota leaders would have to “sing for their supper” when they presented their case to the North Dakota House of Representatives Appropriations Committee for the $1.1 million Surge Funding Bill.
Carlson, who is the leader of the North Dakota House of Representatives, should know full well the needs of those western North Dakota counties and communities that have been impacted by all of the oil development. Over the course of the past three legislative sessions, he, along with countless other legislators, have made trips to western North Dakota to tour cities and counties that are experiencing rapid growth. And the Legislature has had a parade of western North Dakota mayors, county commissioners and school administrators testify before legislative committees on what has been happening to their towns and counties and school districts for the past six years.
To now say that these cities, counties and schools must “sing for the money” that they so desperately need to help make themselves whole again strikes a very raw nerve in places like Watford City and McKenzie County, which are at the very epicenter of the oil development, and have seen the greatest impacts on their existing infrastructure. After all, much of the newfound wealth that the state of North Dakota has been the recipient of has come from these counties.
Yes, the Legislature needs to question how it spends the taxpayer’s money. But to single out the Surge Funding Bill, which not only has the support of the Governor but passed the Senate by an impressive 44-2 margin, makes a person wonder about Carlson’s intentions. Does he only have issues with the Surge Funding Bill? Or is this only the beginning of a very focused questioning process when it comes to providing state funds to help with any western North Dakota need?
Carlson’s quotes in that particular news interview would certainly lead one to assume that he has a problem with returning a greater share of the oil revenues that the state is receiving to the counties that are generating the revenue, and which are feeling the impacts.
But then again, maybe Carlson’s comments about “singing for their supper” weren’t directed to those cities and counties that really need the Surge Funding and have projects ready and waiting for the funding. Rather, his comments were directed to those cities and counties that were simply trying to pile on and get some money when they really didn’t have a need for it.
Who knows what Carlson truly meant. But it was definitely the wrong thing for a person in his leadership role to say.
And he owes the many city and county leaders who are struggling to meet the growing needs of their towns and counties a personal apology.