- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A handful of North Dakota lawmakers began trickling in to the state Capitol on Tuesday, a day before the Legislature’s five-day recess ends to get a head start on the session’s second half.

But most lawmakers, skittish over slumping oil prices, are in hurry-up-and-wait mode. They believe work on most major spending bills will be idled until new oil tax revenue projections are released later this month.

“No real decisions are going to be made until then,” said Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, chairman of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee.

When the Legislature resumes Wednesday in what’s known as “crossover,” Senate members will begin working on House bills, and vice versa. Votes in both chambers become more important because they often represent the Legislature’s last review of a new state law.

The North Dakota Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research arm, said 316 of 474 House bills passed. In the Senate, 378 bills were introduced and 283 passed.

“I’m preparing,” said Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, who was busy Tuesday studying legislation that he and other House members will be consider in the second half of the session.

Lawmakers don’t know how much money they’ll have to spend because of the slide in crude oil prices. Oil prices have lingered at around $50 a barrel; budget writers earlier assumed North Dakota sweet crude would fetch $74 when the next budget cycle begins on July 1 and $82 when the biennium ends on June 30, 2017.

“That’s the greatest challenge, putting together the financial budget for the state,” Keiser said.

Current revenue assumptions aren’t as rosy as Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s budget plan released in December due to the sagging price of crude. A revised forecast released in January estimated projected revenues for the 2015-17 budget cycle at $4.2 billion, down $4 billion from the December projection.

Lawmakers are expecting the new oil revenue estimates on March 18 from state budget analysts and a national economic forecasting firm.

“Everything is dependent on what’s going to happen on oil revenue,” said Cook.

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