Our View: East vs. west needs to stop

There is a lot of discussion going on across the state when it comes to the proposed legislative surge funding. Some talks won't be in favor of the bill. Others will praise it.

There is a lot of discussion going on across the state when it comes to the proposed legislative surge funding. Some talks won’t be in favor of the bill. Others will praise it.
But there is no need for people to be degrading, especially when they live hundreds of miles away from areas the surge funding would impact and don’t have to deal with the stress that the oil industry has brought every day.
House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who on Monday told KEYZ 660 AM news radio in Williston that “we’re not going to handle the surge bill any different than we handle any other bill,” drew criticism this week for allegedly pitting the east side of the state against western leaders.
“The difference between the surge bill and any other bill, is they want this approved right now, and they want the money right now,” Carlson told the station, adding that the Legislature was going to ask questions and give it due diligence.
That’s great. By all means, ask away.
But when a radio station put in an online article that leaders in the Oil Patch would have to ‘sing for their supper,’ people were outraged, thinking Carlson had said the phrase. Democratic leaders held a press conference to highlight the frustration of officials in the Oil Patch, specifically a letter sent out seeking information to help the committee prepare for Wednesday’s House Appropriations Committee. Democrats said, rightfully, people shouldn’t have to sing.
Carlson denied he said those words, saying lawmakers acknowledge the need in the west but it’s their responsibility to analyze the bill closely.
“This is not political, even though some may try to make it that way,” he said during the hearing. “This is not east or west. This is about good management of the public resource.”
The KEYZ article’s author, Chris Simon, later explain the quote was not directly from Carlson, but rather an idiom that Simon said fit the situation.
While Carlson did not say the words, the notion of east vs. west is not an unfamiliar phrase. Others question, sometimes in a very disrespectful way, why Oil Patch communities need any money. Some claim the west wants a blank check.
Carlson has every right to be cautious. $1.1 billion is a lot of money, and with a drop in oil prices, it’s only fair to ask questions on how the money will be used. It’s only right to ask for accountability.
Dickinson and Williston are some of the fastest-growing communities in the nation. Not just the state. The nation.
Watford City went from 1,744 in 2010 to an estimated 7,500 last year, though city leaders told The Press last year the city serves a population of about 10,000. Oil Patch cities have schools that are reaching their enrollment limits. Infrastructure in some areas hasn’t been updated in years. Belfield hasn’t been able to repair its roads since 1990 and is up for more than $11 million in updates. Not to mention, law enforcement everywhere is struggling to keep up with increasing crime rates.
Officials in the Oil Patch had to forgo funding in 2013 because legislators were unsure how much the boom would affect North Dakota. Some local leaders begged legislators for a special session, which was denied by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. They are constantly voicing their concerns not only in the media, but at cafes and coffee shops on Main Street, and the sponsors of the surge funding bill and other legislators have heard enough to come to their defense.
It’s safe to say these singers are hoarse.
Currently, 75 percent of a county’s revenue goes to the state for projects they see fit, leaving 25 percent for local governments. With the majority of representation in the east, it’s not hard to figure out who has the advantage in deciding where those funds go.
There is no question that there is still a divide between the west and the east, especially with the oil boom. Most of it is born out of not knowing the facts.
Most people who question if the west needs funding have no idea what it is like to live in western North Dakota during an oil boom. They may claim they understand just from talking to constituents, hearing rumors or taking field trips that last only a couple of days once a year. But they have no right to say what someone across the state needs when they haven’t lived in the Patch.
Yes, the boom has slowed down, but does that mean $1.1 billion is too much? We hope lawmakers run a fine-tooth comb through the bill carefully and decide what is needed. They should not, and cannot, issue a blank check. But we ask that they make a fair decision.
This notion that either side of the state is greedy or undeserving needs to stop. When lawmakers go to vote on the surge fund, they need to leave politics out of the chambers. Constituents deserve a Legislature that will listen to their needs without degrading them, or those who would rather rely on unfounded claims from ill-informed, biased speakers. Otherwise, the distrust between east and west is only going to grow into a huge chorus.

The Dickinson Press Editorial Board consists of Publisher Harvey Brock, Managing Editor Dustin Monke, News Editor April Baumgarten and Circulation Director Justin Niles.

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