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ND House adopts $1.1B bill for Oil Patch infrastructure

BISMARCK -- Rep. Bob Skarphol said late Wednesday a bill to provide $1.1 billion to western North Dakota communities will deliver ample funding to address infrastructure and other needs, but will not provide the long-term help the bill was intended to do.

House lawmakers passed House Bill 1358 by a unanimous vote, but the bill was amended from its original 10-year plan to end in 2015.

"It's not a long-term plan of any kind," said Skarphol, R-Tioga, who sponsored the bill. "There is very little reassurance to the oil-impacted counties."

The bill was crafted by Skarphol to help make up for lost oil tax revenues in oil-impacted counties, which have been receiving only about 7 percent of oil revenues. In comparison, coal-producing counties receive 35 percent of coal-tax revenues, Skarphol said.

The bill now has to clear the Senate before it is sent to Gov. Jack Dalrymple to be signed into law.

Under the bill, counties would receive $315 million; cities would receive a total of $197 million; schools, $49 million; and townships and the Energy Infrastructure and Impact Grant Program, $270 million. The bill also would provide $310 million in various other appropriations.

"If any of us would have stood here two years ago and said we could put out a bill with $1.1 billion ... I think we'd be pretty surprised," said Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood.

The two Republican House members from Dickinson agree with Skarphol's assessment of the final bill as being short-sighted.

Rep. Vicky Steiner said one large concern she has is the bill only provides funding through 2015, so the Legislature will have to take another look at the provisions in its next session.

The original proposal would have extended funding out 10 years.

"It would have given the city assurance to move ahead with their big projects," Steiner said.

Rep. Nancy Johnson also disagreed with the 2015 sunset, saying there should be an ongoing commitment.

"We need to put the dollars up front," she said.

"A larger range commitment would have been beneficial for infrastructure needs. And now they will have to struggle to figure out what they will be able to receive every legislative session."

The bill creates a definition of a hub city as any city with a population of more than 12,500 based on the 2010 census and that has 1 percent of its workforce in mining, which includes oil workers. For each 1 percent of oil workers, the city will receive $375,000 a year.

Each hub city school district also will receive a monthly payment totaling $125,000 a year.

Williston, with 40 percent of its population in mining, will receive $57 million during the 2013-15 biennium. Dickinson, with 17 percent of its population, will receive $26 million, and Minot, with 3.8 percent of its population, will get $7.5 million.

Additional money from the energy impact fund will be carved out specifically for the three hub cities as a compromise since they will not be able to apply for any more money from the fund.

The idea is to make sure other impacted communities can benefit from the fund without having to compete with the larger cities.

Williston will receive an added $2 million, $7 million will go to Dickinson and $5 million to Minot.

The bill also changes how money is distributed from the energy impact fund. The distribution formula for counties that usually receive more than $5 million from the fund will provide counties with more money; counties receiving less than $5 million will not receive any more.

The current formula distributes 45 percent of the money to counties, 35 percent to schools and 20 percent to cities.

Under the bill, counties will receive 60 percent of the funding, non-hub cities will see 20 percent, 9 percent will go to hub cities and 6 percent will go to townships.

"The counties will be pleased, they will be able to do some good things with their money," Steiner said.

The final version of the bill comes after the House and Senate passed very different versions and had to find compromise.

The Senate first took out $22 million for emergency medical service providers, nursing home grants and critical access hospitals, with the promise the funding would be put into other budgets.

The conference committee put back $21 million, with $2 million for nursing home grants, $9.6 million for critical access hospitals and a new $9.6 million for law enforcement grants through the attorney general's office.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.