- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Minot Daily News, Minot, Jan. 7, 2015

State must keep its word now

For the last decade, oil revenue has put North Dakota in a very special state across the nation.

While most states have been struggling to balance budgets, North Dakota has seen spending jump by leaps and bounds. A million here, a million there and no one blinked an eye.

Well, the golden goose may not be laying this year, and the men and women who have gotten used to spending other people’s money are in an all-out panic. Just look at the numbers. In 2003, the state had a budget of around $4 billion. A decade later, the budget was $14 billion. Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s proposed budget for the next two years is set at $15.7 billion. That budget assumes oil will have a price of $74 a barrel when the budget cycle opens and $82 a barrel when the cycle ends. As of Monday, the price of oil was just above $50.

If the price stays at that level for five months, an automatic tax reduction that would cost the state as much as $5.8 billion could kick in. So yes, times look bleak in Bismarck.

“We have to begin preparing for life after oil,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider said.

But here’s the problem. Many cities and counties in our region have gone deep into debt to finance the massive growth due to the oil boom. And those communities did so with the promise by the state that it would be sending more money to communities in need. The governor’s budget proposes $3.8 billion going to oil-patch communities to ease the burden of the massive growth.

Minot is scheduled to get some of that money, but the real communities at risk are Williston, Watford City, Dickinson and others in the middle of oil country.

Even in challenging times, we call on the Legislature to keep its promise. Our neighbors to the west desperately need some help. Williston has gone more than $100 million in debt to extend water and sewer lines and to hire employees needed to handle the extreme growth. They did so in large part because the state made a promise.

Yes, circumstances have changed, but the state still needs to keep its word. It won’t be easy, but the state must commit to helping those most in need. It won’t be easy for legislators in Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks to sign off on funding to the west if cuts are made to their home towns. But easy or not, it is the right thing to do.

When times have been good it has been easy for legislators to make decisions. Now that times are challenging, we will really get to see what kind of leaders they are.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Jan. 7, 2014

Partisan effort reflects poorly on GOP

The potshots have already started toward the North Dakota Republican Party accusing them of running scared of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and rightfully so.

The topic is not only being discussed in North Dakota, across the nation political blogs and editorial pages all are taking shots at the North Dakota GOP after recent news broke that Rep. Roscoe Streyle, R-Minot, plans to introduce a bill removing the governor’s right to appoint a U.S. senator to office should a current U.S. senator leave office outside of a normal election period.

Streyle has indicated that the possibility Heitkamp might run in 2016 for governor and potentially win was “on my mind” while drafting the bill.

In a state so dominated by Republican leaning voters (all 12 partisan state officers are GOP; Senate 70 percent GOP; House 75 percent GOP; holding the governor’s office since 1992) we are wondering why they have so little trust in those voters that they would need to bow to such an obvious partisan tactic.

Heitkamp has indicated that she has no plans at this time to run for governor in 2016. If she were to run a victory is far from certain in a Republican dominated state.

All indications are that if Gov. Jack Dalrymple seeks another term it’s unlikely that Heitkamp would challenge him anyway. Were Dalrymple to be re-elected in 2016 and a vacancy occur in one of our U.S. Senatorial positions passage of this bill would backfire as Dalrymple’s ability to appoint a Republican replacement would no longer exist.

We decided to see if North Dakota is unusual in that we allow the sitting governor to appoint a replacement during a U.S. Senate vacancy occurring between normal elections. To the contrary, we join 36 other states that fill vacancies in this manner.

The next question we asked ourselves was whether other states had considered changing how they choose their senator in similar situations.

A search of the National Conference of State Legislatures website (ncsl.org) listed the following results for recent legislative actions:

In 2012, five states considered but did not pass legislation dealing with U.S. Senate vacancies.

In 2011, three states considered but did not pass legislation dealing with U.S. Senate vacancies.

In 2010, seven states considered legislation to change the way vacancies in the U.S. Senate are filled; none of that legislation passed.

In 2009, 12 of the states that permit the governor to fill U.S. Senate vacancies by appointment considered legislation to take away that authority and require a special election instead. Only Connecticut and Rhode Island passed legislation along these lines; in Colorado, Maryland, Missouri and North Carolina the bills failed to pass. In Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the bills carried over to the 2010 legislative sessions and all of those states currently fill vacancies via governor appointment.

In 2008, bills addressing U.S. Senate vacancies were introduced but failed to pass in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island. In Kansas, the Legislature passed a bill removing the governor’s authority to make an appointment to fill a vacancy in the office of U.S. senator, but it was vetoed by the governor.

It’s pretty obvious by the attempts across the U.S. to pass similar legislation that this is not an issue resonating with the citizenry.

North Dakotans are an obstinate bunch and we don’t like being told what we have to do. In fact, we often go out of our way to do the opposite just to show that we can think for ourselves. The passage of this bill might just backfire on the Republicans.

If this change really is something that will serve the needs of our state beyond 2016, then how about Streyle amends his bill to ask that it be put on the ballot in 2016? At least we would then let the voters of North Dakota decide if they want the change.

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