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State budget breakdown

If there were any of Sen. Rich Wardner's, (R-Dickinson) former students in attendance at Coffee with the Legislators, they may have experienced a bit of a flashback.

Wardner educated the public with a breakdown of the state's proposed budget and where that money comes from in the City Commission Room of City Hall on Saturday.

"You can tell Sen. Wardner was a school teacher one-time the way we just heard the lecture which was pretty good," Rep. Frank Wald, (R-Dickinson) joked.

Wardner said he believes in transparency and it is important people understand where the money in the state's budget comes from.

The general fund is often times confused with the total budget Wardner said, adding that the general fund is only part of the total budget.

"The general fund is made up of dollars that are collected from the tax payers in the state of North Dakota," Wardner said.

Wardner said the $8.1 billion budget is made up of $3.2 billion from the general fund, $2.8 billion from federal funds and $1.8 billion from special funds, which are raised from the different license fees paid throughout the state not included in tax revenue.

Once the amount of revenue the state can expect over the biennium is projected, Wardner said the Appropriations Committees go about putting the money where it is needed.

The projected budget would appropriate $2.5 billion or 33.1 percent to Health & Human Services, $2 billion or 26.4 percent to Education (Elementary, Secondary and Higher Ed), $1.13 billion or 14.7 percent to Transportation and $1.9 billion or 25 percent to everything else.

Wardner said budget projections show $1.2 billion in reserve at the end of the 2009-2011 biennium. This reserve is made up of $829 million in the Permanent Oil Trust Fund, $311 million in the budget stabilization fund and $65 million left in the general fund.

"The way things are going out there with oil, it could be less than that. And if things take off it could be more than that," Wardner said. "That's an estimate."

Wardner said they legislature will know more on Feb. 9, when they get updated oil revenue projections for the biennium.

Another thing that could affect oil revenues is the oil price incentive trigger, Wardner said. If oil says under the trigger price, which was $47 a barrel and changed to $49.50 a barrel on Jan. 1, for five consecutive months the oil tax incentives kick back on.

Once the incentives take affect oil companies have a 24 month holiday on the 6.5 percent extraction tax and after the 24-month period ends the 6.5 percent would drop to 4 percent.

The legislators also took the opportunity to let the public know what they hope to work on during the session and how things are going so far.

Rep. Nancy Johnson, (R-Dickinson) said she hopes to work on a bill which would enable doctoral level psychologists with specific education in psychotropic drugs to prescribe for their patients, as well as work on a missing persons bill, which would require the first law enforcement agency contacted to be responsible for the investigation.

Rep. Shirley Meyer, (D-Dickinson) said more needs to be done with teacher pay, especially those retired teachers who may not have been able to put as much away for retirement.

"We need to look out for our teachers who taught our teachers," Meyer said.

Sen. George Nodland, (R-Dickinson), who is the only rookie in the delegation from Dickinson, said he's learned a lot in just the few weeks about how important every bill is to someone.

"Some of these things seemed real small when you see this list and then when you start reading the bill and you start receiving comments from people, you realize how complicated it is," Nodland said.

Rep. Mike Schatz (R-New England) said some of the bills are headline grabbers and get people really wound up because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

"If they're (bills) making you uncomfortable, believe me, they're making us feel uncomfortable to, so most of the time they don't get passed," Schatz said.

The meeting ended with a question and answer period where the legislators heard concerns from the public.

Topics discussed included, but were not limited to the pharmacy ownership issue and the possibility the state is funding too many institutions of higher education.