Port: Be thankful the Democrats weren’t in charge

MINOT -- If Democrats had been running the state over the last few years, North Dakota's budget situation would be much worse.For one thing, Democrats wanted more spending and less saving. "You definitely want to have a budget cushion" Senate Min...


MINOT -- If Democrats had been running the state over the last few years, North Dakota’s budget situation would be much worse.
For one thing, Democrats wanted more spending and less saving.
“You definitely want to have a budget cushion” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, a Democrat from Grand Forks, told the Bismarck Tribune in 2013 of the state’s reserves funds. “(But) I don’t think we need to fill our pockets with cash at the expense of addressing needs.”
It’s a good thing voters put Schneider and his fellow liberals in the minority, because the state is leaning on those reserves now. A new revenue forecast released last week blew a more than $1 billion hole in the state’s general fund revenues, prompting Gov. Jack Dalrymple to withdraw nearly a half billion dollars from the state’s “rainy day” fund and call for 4.05 percent across-the-board spending cuts.
The Democrats also fought Republicans on stabilizing the state’s oil tax revenues. Specifically the elimination of a massive tax exemption for the oil industry and replacing it with a flatter, and slightly lower, tax rate.
The old rate was 11.5 percent. The new top rate, with no trigger exemptions, is 11 percent. Or 10 percent if oil is under $90 per barrel.
Had lawmakers not gotten rid of the trigger, low oil prices would have eliminated the state’s extraction tax in December, and we probably would have tacked another billion or so in lost revenues onto that report from last week.
Democrats spin this by saying they were never against eliminating the tax trigger. They were only against giving the industry a lower top tax rate, likening it to giving away untold millions to big, bad “big oil.”
Politics, though, is the art of compromise. To get something you often have to give something. Legislation which hit the oil industry between the eyes with a massive tax hike when oil prices are low wouldn’t have passed without a reduction in the industry’s top rate softening the blow.
But Democrats wanted no compromises. When state Sen. Connie Triplett of Grand Forks tried to work with Republicans to amend the legislation, some of her fellow Democrats wanted to punish her.
“Triplett said Sen. George Sinner, D-Fargo, told her he intends to make a motion to have her removed from Legislative Management, an upcoming interim appointment she was elected to last week,” Forum News Service reporter Amy Dalrymple wrote on April 22, 2015.
Republicans ultimately won the fight, and the reforms passed by wide majorities, leaving the state in a much healthier fiscal position today than it would have been had Democrats won.
Which isn’t to say that Republican handling of fiscal matters is beyond criticism.
In December 2014, Dalrymple delivered a budget to lawmakers which assumed oil prices of $74 to $78 per barrel for the first year of the biennium and $79 to $82 per barrel for the second
As I write this, West Texas Intermediate is trading at a dollar figure in the mid-30’s per barrel.
“We expect revenues to remain strong in the next budgeting period,” Dalrymple said in that 2014 budget address. “We expect revenues to continue to exceed on-going expenditures.”
The state seems to get its revenue forecasts wrong very often. In the 2011-2013 biennium, the peak of the state’s oil boom years, the state’s official projection issued by Moody’s Analytics understated revenues by more than 49 percent or nearly $1.7 billion. In the current biennium so far, Moody’s forecasts have been off by nearly $1.5 billion.
“Moody’s can’t forecast for jack,” North Dakota GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum quipped on Twitter.
No kidding.
Port is the founder of, a North Dakota political blog.


What To Read Next
The Dickinson Press Editorial Board stands with the wild horses and calls on the National Park Service to extend public commentary period
“From the Hawks’ Nest” is a monthly column by Dickinson State University President Steve Easton
"Life is a team effort no matter what, and greed puts you out on a lonely limb," writes Kevin Holten.
"Our life of faith is a life with God. And that makes all the difference," writes Boniface Muggli