BISMARCK, N.D. - Landmark legislation that triples the amount of state funding to deal with impacts in oil-producing counties has been passed in the North Dakota House.
House Bill 1358 appropriates nearly $1.143 billion, most of it to the state’s oil patch, for fixing roads, building infrastructure, providing law enforcement and emergency medical services and more.
Though unprecedented in its infrastructure spending, the bill’s chief sponsor still was unhappy with the outcome.
“I’m disappointed,” said Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, whose district is in the heart of oil country. “What is it with what the counties have been doing that’s unacceptable?”
The bill is on the Senate calendar for this morning. If passed, Gov. Jack Dalrymple will be sent a measure that is some $400 million more than what he recommended in the executive budget.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said until this year he would never have expected such a large infrastructure appropriation.
If told after the last session that this would happen, “I would have been pretty surprised,” he said.
The total is still but a fraction of the amount the state collects in oil and gas production taxes, but it is nearly three times the $392.49 million the state returned to oil country in the current biennium.
Approval of the spending measure follows repeated pleas from city, county, school and township officials who have struggled to meet the demands placed on them by burgeoning population growth and endless truck traffic.
The bill pays special attention to Williston, Dickinson and Minot, sending them $91.42 million in new “hub cities” funds. It also gives the cities a designated piece of the Oil Impact Fund, helping them deal with impacts while also preserving the lion’s share of the fund for other political subdivisions in the 17 western counties.
Skarphol said local officials in the West likely would be happy to get the money allocated by the bill, but predicted they won’t be satisfied.
He spent two years crafting and discussing the bill, but said non-oil-producing counties were cheated by the final result.
“It was really designed to address the Upper Great Plains Transportation study,” Skarphol said, but fell far short of the mark.
He also was disappointed in the level of funding for local governments in the oil-producing region.
“Only about 16.5 percent of the oil production tax goes back to oil country,” he said, comparing the total to 35 percent of coal taxes sent back to coal-producing counties.
While acknowledging that 35 percent is an unrealistic amount for oil-producing counties, he said, “16.5 percent doesn’t get us there.”
For the first time, the bill provides direct funding for:
- Sheriff’s departments dealing with double-digit increases in calls and staff.
- Emergency medical service providers dealing with burnout of volunteers because of the large number and increasing severity of calls.
- Critical access hospitals with mounting bad debt from transient patients who receive services but don’t pay their bills.
- Nursing homes and centers for people with developmental disabilities that can’t keep staff because they can’t compete with oil field wages.
- Fire protection districts in need of both training and equipment to deal with oil-related fire and emergency calls.
- Schools that are short of both space and teachers due to fast-paced enrollment growth.
The bill increases funding to oil-producing counties from $129.4 million this biennium to $315.47 for 2013-15.
The increase for cities, including the newly designated hub cities, is from $62.5 million to $197.8 million.
In addition, the measure allocates $160 million for roads and highways in oil counties, $120 million for roads in non-oil counties, and $8.76 million for townships in oil-producing counties.
Finally, it ups the Oil and Gas Impact Grant Fund from $100 million to $240 million.
However, a new wrinkle to the impact fund program is that nearly half is designated for specific purposes.
Those designations include $60 million for airport grants, $7 million each for sheriff’s departments and EMS services, $5 million for counties with new oil impact, $4 million for higher education grants, $3.5 million for fire protection districts, $3 million for a dust control pilot project and $14 million for hub cities.