Article by, Jordan Kannianen – District 4 Senator
Merry Christmas to all of you! The interim Government Finance Committee recently met in Bismarck, with reports received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the DOT, and others.
OMB: As of October 31st, the Legacy Fund had a balance of $4.995 billion, and it has surpassed $5 billion by now. The General Fund received a slight boost when “turn-back” (appropriated money agencies didn’t spend) came in higher than expected at $97.8 million. Thirty-seven million of that was from lower-than-expected K-12 school enrollments.
Volatility: One main task of the committee is to propose solutions to deal with volatility in forecasting and budgeting. The potential use of bonding (which we don’t currently employ) was discussed in order to smooth out cash flow crunches when the economy slows. Bonding could help complete larger infrastructure projects in a more timely manner and with fewer cost overruns. Savings could be realized if one large bond could be issued for a project instead of relying on additional cash infusions every two years when the legislature meets. WAWS is a prime example. I wonder if the $1,000 deposit I paid in 2011 would have gotten me rural water by now had the project been bonded? As it stands, WAWS has been plagued by cost-overruns and slow progress, and I and many others still sit with no rural water going into 2018.
Another proposal to deal with volatility is the idea of somehow placing restrictions on how small the ending balance can be in the general fund as a percentage of the overall budget, along with other caps in spending increases. The main principle is to exercise discipline in spending in the good times!
DOT: As I’ve mentioned before, there is growing support for raising the motor fuel tax next session. It currently stands at 23 cents/gallon, last raised in 2005. One argument is that with more fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, the average wear-and-tear stays the same while tax collections go down. Thanks to the oil taxes, roads are in better shape than they’ve been in a long time, with only 9% of ND roads rated as poor, compared to 22% a decade ago. This makes me wonder why raising the rate would be necessary at this time. However, for the long term, some advocate the raising of the motor fuel tax, including county and city associations. What are your thoughts? I always welcome your communications on any issue.
Have a wonderful Christmas season with the Savior and family not far from your hearts and thoughts.
District 4 Senator
*Jordan Kannianen is a Senator from District 4. Jordan serves on the Government Finance Interim Committee.
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