Candidates square off at public forumWith election season quickly approaching, District 37 candidates talked infrastructure, budgets and an upcoming “tough” legislative session during an open forum at Dickinson’s Badlands Activities Center Tuesday evening.
With election season quickly approaching, District 37 candidates talked infrastructure, budgets and an upcoming “tough” legislative session during an open forum at Dickinson’s Badlands Activities Center Tuesday evening.
Four candidates, Vicky Steiner, Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, Cindy Klein, District 37 Democrat-NPL chairwoman and Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Dickinson, each answered six submitted questions, all agreeing on one main point — The upcoming Legislative session will prove to be a difficult one.
Amid bustling oil activity, a question of the evening was how eastern North Dakota support would be leveraged for western North Dakota infrastructure.
“At this time I believe that western North Dakota is sitting on a gold mine and we have to be able to understand that those resources need to be managed in a sustainable way,” Klein said. “You always hear people complaining, ‘Oh the east always gets more,’ … but frankly there are more people in the east. I believe maybe it’s going to be a tough fight. I don’t want to see partisan fighting going on at the Legislature.”
Wardner said he feels “the groundwork has been laid” with eastern legislators about western North Dakota’s concerns.
Wardner said oil tax revenues are being spread throughout the state, with several sectors receiving such revenues including education, water and the state’s general fund.
“Therefore, everybody understands that this is the goose that has laid the golden egg and they want to take care of it,” Wardner said.
Steiner, who serves as executive director of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties, said she feels the upcoming Legislative session will be much more receptive than last.
Steiner said the state has a royalty interest in oil activity, thus a commitment to see that those state minerals are produced, while keeping in mind the stress it is causing such counties.
“The state is really beginning to understand they have a vested interest in our success out west,” Steiner said. “I think it’s much more positive at this point than it was prior to last Legislative session.”
Johnson cites the east/west tax revenue distribution concerns as a need for collaboration.
“Every part of the state has needs and we need to listen to what their needs are and express what our needs are and then we have to put that puzzle together and make it work,” Johnson said.
Candidates were asked if he or she felt the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education’s request for a 20 percent budget increase was too high.
Klein said if money had been appropriately spent over the last biennium, there would be a chance the amount could be approved.
“I believe that there is a sense among the voters that Higher Ed gets more than its share,” Klein said.
Wardner said he feels the 20 percent increase request is “higher than it should be.”
Several funds and projects may need funding including pension funds for public employees and teachers, a Fargo flood diversion and infrastructure in the west.
“We want to make sure we take care of the other agencies,” Wardner said. “I don’t see us going at 20 percent at all. It’ll be something less than that.”
Steiner also said the amount seems a bit high as Higher Education received “a major general fund increase” last session at nearly 26 percent.
“There is some concern by some of the leg about oversight on the Higher Education spending which will come into the discussion on what’s going to happen,” Steiner said.
Johnson, who serves on the Higher Education Interim Committee, said as a percentage of the state general fund budget, Higher Education is receiving less than it has in previous years.
“They do need money for initiatives, saying whether 20 percent is the right amount or not is hard to say now,” Johnson said, adding Higher Education’s budget is comprised of about 23 to 25 percent state tax revenue.
Elections will be held Nov. 2