Oil patch officials welcome governor's budget plan

JOSH WOOD, Associated Press

The governor's plan calls for a 60-40 split of oil tax revenues between the governments of oil-producing areas and the state.

WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) — Officials and lawmakers in western North Dakota's oil patch welcomed Gov. Jack Dalrymple's budget recommendations Wednesday — a plan that would bring the oil-producing part of the state driving North Dakota's economic prosperity $3.7 billion in the next biennium.

The governor's plan calls for a 60-40 split of oil tax revenues between the governments of oil-producing areas and the state. It also calls for $873 million in surge funding to address immediate infrastructure needs of oil patch counties.

Currently, local governments take in only 25 percent of oil tax revenues.

Oil patch officials have pushed for a larger portion as their communities have grown dramatically in recent years with an influx of tens of thousands of workers lured by high-paying jobs. Now roads need to be built, schools expanded and law enforcement departments strengthened.

"It feels like universally people accept the fact that this is where the revenue is coming from," said Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford. "And there are tremendous community impacts and infrastructure impacts that need to be addressed to keep putting that revenue in the state coffers."

Watford City, the seat of North Dakota's top oil-producing county, had a population of just 1,744 in the 2010 census. Today, Sanford estimates Watford City and the surrounding area is home to between 15,000 and 20,000 people. Trailers crowd what was once prairie and traffic is often gridlocked with the ubiquitous semi and pickup trucks of oil country. The cost of the infrastructure needed is enormous.

"These numbers get into the billions in a hurry and there's not that much money floating around," he said.

Williston Mayor Howard Klug also welcomed the governor's budget recommendations.

"He listened to the cities. He listened to the counties. He put in the effort to bring us all down to Bismarck and talk to us one on one about what we needed in western North Dakota," he said.

The Legislature will look at the governor's proposal when the new session begins in January.

North Dakota state Rep. Patrick Hatlestad said while he's optimistic that the $873 million surge funding will pass, the tax-sharing proposal could be more difficult.

"The 60-40 could be a bit of a fight," he said.

But overall "I think people began to recognize the west (part of the state) really needs help," he added. "I think maybe they didn't take us as seriously in the past session as they should have — now they do."

While welcoming the additional funds to the oil patch, Rep. Gary Sukut underlined that the oil patch is going to require continual support and not just a good deal with the state for one biennium.

"We're not hitting any kind of a leveling-off point," Sukut said. "We're still advancing and growing every day and the needs continue to grow."

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