Audio: Lawmaker Says There Has Been Little Accountability for North Dakota’s Economic Development Programs

“The Pioneer Family” stands in front of the North Dakota State Capitol on July 14, 2016, in Bismarck. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

“I was amazed at how many incentives are on the books,” state Rep. Jason Dockter told me yesterday during an interview on my radio show (audio below).

Dockter chairs the Legislature’s interim Political Subdivisions Taxation Committee which was tasked by legislation from the 2015 session with reviewing the state’s economic development incentives. When the new legislative session begins in January, Dockter’s committee will have completed the first two years of a six year review of as many as 45 economic development programs created over the last sixty years.

According to Dockter, this has never been done in state history before. “Nobody has ever had accountability,” he told me. In fact, Doctker says his committee found four programs which had never been used before (the committee has produced draft legislation to end them to be considered next year).

That’s shocking given how many millions upon millions of dollars flow through these programs every biennium. Whatever your opinion of these sort of policies, I think the expectation most of us have is that they’re limited in scope and rigidly enforced. Except that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It seems like lawmakers have been layering on incentives and exemptions and doing very little to ensure they’re used properly.

Dockter’s committee has made headlines a couple of times this year. Back in January members of the committee said they felt companies – including some involving Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum – had been using “angel fund” incentives improperly for out-of-state ventures. More recently, Lawmakers say that a Minot firm used the same incentives improperly for real estate development.

Those who received the incentives say they followed the law. Dockter doesn’t disagree, but said that control of these programs needs to be tightened up.

“It’s mind boggling they haven’t been looked at in the past,” Dockter told me.

Here’s the full audio of our interview:

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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