Democrat Superminority Makes Political Hay Over Surge Funding

If there is one silver lining for North Dakota’s superminority Democrats, it’s that they don’t really have to take responsibility for anything that happens in state government. They’re free to play whatever political games they please, knowing full well that whatever the outcome they can point their fingers at the Republican majority.

Case in point, the tussle over so-called “surge” funding in western North Dakota.

At the beginning of the legislative session there were two competing bills to address western infrastructure needs. The “surge” bill, sponsored by a group of western lawmakers, and the “jumpstart” bill which was included in Governor Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget. The cost of each bill was in the $850 – $875 million ballpark.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]They engage in some political vandalism and score some cheap points. Meanwhile, the grownups are left to govern.[/mks_pullquote]

Last month the Senate considered both of these bills and, rather than picking one or the other, they simply mashed them together into a $1.1 billion behemoth and dumped the bill into the collective laps of the state House.

The House, though, seems a bit more intent on scrutinizing this spending. Appropriations Committee chairman Jeff Delzer, a Republican from Underwood with a reputation for being a budget hardliner and harboring some skepticism for western infrastructure demands, ruffled some feathers when he asked some western communities to provide details on their funding requests and current property tax levels.

The request seems reasonable enough. Before appropriating what will likely be about 10 percent of the state’s total appropriations for the coming biennium it makes sense to ensure that the money will go to worthy projects, and that local governments in the west aren’t using oil impacts as an excuse to dump their budget wants into the state budget.

After all, as I pointed out in September, oil patch counties are paying an average property tax mill rate that’s 30 percent lower than the rest of the state:

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Western leaders have grown a little cocky what with the “oil impacts” trump card in their back pocket, which they play whenever any tax/spending issues are questioned. It’s perfectly understandable that they want to get this funding confirmed so that they can begin planning for the 2015 construction season.

But Rep. Delzer’s request is also prudent. Instead of complaining, they ought to be complying. “They’re just saying, ‘We’ve provided that information, why do we need to continue to do that?’” Rep. Kenton Onstad, a Democrat from Parshall, told Mike Nowtazki last week. But if the data is already compiled, what’s the problem with satisfying Rep. Delzer’s request?

Meanwhile, the liberals have pounced. “They shouldn’t have to sing for their supper,” said Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, a Democrat from Grand Forks, said in a press conference today. “They’ve identified their needs for years.”

Which brings me back to my original point.

Superminority Democrats needn’t worry about boondoggle spending. They, after all, aren’t in control of anything. Whatever may or may not happen with western spending, it will be Republicans who get the credit or the blame. So Democrats, positioned as they are on the sidelines, are free to cheerlead for indiscriminate spending in a way that fans the flames of discord over these sensitive budget matters.

They engage in some political vandalism and score some cheap points. Meanwhile, the grownups are left to govern.

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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