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Dalrymple calls for $2.5B on roadwork

BISMARCK -- Gov. Jack Dalrymple unveiled a proposal Monday to spend $2.5 billion on state roads and infrastructure during the 2013-15 biennium, calling it an "unprecedented investment."

The plan calls for additional money to assist the oil- and gas-producing counties in western North Dakota but also addresses needs in the central and eastern portions of the state, Dalrymple said.

The proposal means spending an additional $1 billion on roads and infrastructure next biennium compared to the current biennium, he said. The money will come from a mix of federal and state funds, including tax revenue from the oil and gas industry.

"I think the investment represents a tremendous conviction that we need to help our communities. We need to help our economic development, and we need to work for the better quality of life in North Dakota that everybody expects," Dalrymple said. "In order to do that, we need to invest in our infrastructure more than we ever have before in the coming two years."

Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor of Towner, who is challenging Dalrymple in the governor's race, said this kind of investment was needed a year ago.

"We need action not just in an election year but every year, and my dedication to leading on these issues will be there year in and year out," Taylor said in a statement. "I'm happy to be in this race to force some action on the governor's office and get North Dakotans the funds they need to have safe, reliable roadways across the state."

Dalrymple said infrastructure has always been important to his administration. When he entered office in late 2010, he more than doubled the state's commitment to infrastructure from $609 million to nearly $1.4 billion, he said. Now he plans to ask the Legislature to approve an additional $1 billion.

"I want to make it clear that we will not ask the central parts of the state and the eastern part of the state to sacrifice anything because of the large new investments in western North Dakota," Dalrymple said. "We will proceed to put together, in the traditional way, our statewide transportation budget and all areas will be entitled to the same kind of funding that they're accustomed to."

Under Dalrymple's plan, there would also be a new $1 billion enhanced road and highway fund for one-time investments. These include extraordinary state highway maintenance projects, truck reliever routes, upgrading two-lane highways to four-lane, underpasses and special assistance to townships.

The majority of this money would be invested in western North Dakota, Dalrymple said.

"But there is funding throughout several of these other pieces that can wind up in other parts of the state as well," he said.

Dalrymple also proposes revising the oil and gas tax formula that provides money to the oil counties. Under his plan, more money would flow directly to the counties, growing from the now expected $270 million for the 2013-15 biennium to $400 million.

Dalrymple wants to keep the oil and gas impact fund at its current level of $135 million. This money is used to provide grants to cities, townships, emergency services and other political subdivisions in oil-impacted counties.

The plan also includes $145 million for county and township road reconstruction, and a special $100 million distribution to non-oil producing counties.

Dalrymple, a former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he believes his proposal can pass the Legislature. There will still be money left over to provide "substantial" tax relief and take care of regular program needs, such as education and human services, he said.

"Sometimes people ask me how this is all possible. How can we possibility take care of all of these investments and have room for tax relief at the same time?" Dalrymple said. "I say it's because our economy is doing so well, and we do have a great deal of revenue coming in because the economy in North Dakota is the best in the nation."