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Oversen: Failing our neighbors in western North Dakota

By Kylie Oversen

Rep. Scott Louser wants us to know that Republicans joined North Dakota Democratic legislators in passing legislation that provided more than $2 billion in funding for oil-impacted communities in Western North Dakota.

However, throwing dollar signs around, coupled with attacks against Rep. Kenton Onstad for his pointed criticism of the inadequate support provided to these communities, was needless and inappropriate. An increase in funding was provided but it is nowhere close to meeting western North Dakota’s needs.

Rep. Kylie Oversen, D-Grand Forks Louser’s hypersensitivity to criticism is understandable, given that it is also coming from western residents and local officials, who are echoing what Onstad has long been saying. Even some Republican legislators now agree that needs are not being met.

Rep. David Drovdal, from Arnegard, wrote an op-ed earlier this summer, expressing criticism of the Republican supermajority for failing to address growing needs. The mayors of Williston and Watford City have also expressed their disappointment with state funding inadequacies.

The problem is that way too much of the oil production tax is going to Bismarck instead of going directly to western counties and cities.

Onstad has been fighting to correct this for the past five sessions. If Louser had done his homework, he would not have launched his ill-considered attack on Onstad for the oil-tax reform measure he introduced in 2011, which would have provided more financial security and lessened the risk to the state when oil prices decline.

The oil production tax is an “in lieu of” tax, meaning it replaces what would ordinarily be property tax income dedicated for local use. North Dakota takes much more from oil counties and cities than any comparable state with the same tax. In 2012, only about 11 percent of the oil production tax was retained by western counties and cities. The rest is locked up in Bismarck.

Sadly, the Republican supermajority seems more interested in bragging about overflowing budget coffers than in actually fixing funding inadequacies.

The needs in western North Dakota really hit home for me. I have a younger sister still in elementary school in Killdeer.

I want to know that she will continue to receive a great public education. I want to know that the school buses on their routes and my parents driving to work are safe on well-maintained roads. With growing reports of drug smuggling and human trafficking, I need to know that we have appropriately trained law enforcement, with adequate staff numbers and resources, to address these serious issues.

We can throw numbers around all day and claim success. Or, we can step up to the plate, face reality, and work together towards solutions to fix these problems and meet the growing needs. We owe that to our neighbors in western North Dakota.

Oversen is a Democrat in the North Dakota House of Representatives from Grand Forks and represents District 42. She is a Killdeer native.