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WARDNER

Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, chairman of the Energy Development and Transmission Committee, speaks to committee members on proposed changes to the oil and gas tax allocation formula on Aug. 14 at the state Capitol in Bismarck.

North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, unveiled a bill draft on Wednesday for legislation to fund infrastructure projects with oil and gas tax revenue in areas outside of North Dakota's oil patch.

Nicknamed "Operation Prairie Dog," the proposal would add additional "buckets" for city, county, township and airport infrastructure funds, while tweaking the state's Gross Production Tax in shifting streams of oil and gas tax revenue.

Wardner said he's heard few complaints.

"Everybody's happy," he told the Tribune. "Everybody's had a chance to look at what we're doing and what the changes were, and they're on board."

He stressed to members of the interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee that proposed tweaks to the GPT formula would generate the same revenue distributions, while the proposed "buckets" would still fill to $280 million total if oil prices fell to $30/bbl amid 1.1 million daily barrels of production. 

If the proposed funds don't fill, the revenue for infrastructure projects would be prorated, according to Wardner.

Distributions are based on factors such as populations and valuations, according to Wardner, citing West Fargo, population 37,000, to receive more money than Grand Forks, population 57,000, due to West Fargo's growth. 

Wardner said the bill draft has undergone no substantive changes since first proposed in July, though a dispute over the school funding formula would likely have to be addressed by the Education Committee. 

The interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee voted unanimously to support continued GPT funding for the designated "hub cities" of Dickinson, Minot and Williston. 

State Democrats have previously expressed skepticism for "Operation Prairie Dog" in funding infrastructure outside of western North Dakota with oil and gas tax revenue, as communities impacted by the Bakken oil boom still have needs.

Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, D-Fargo, said some citizens' early concerns may have perceived "some taking of money from the west to the east," but "I don't see that that's happening."

"I don't see where there's the west is going to be getting less because of this (distribution)," Piepkorn told the Tribune.

He also acknowledged oil-producing communities continually impacted by the industry, trying to keep up from housing to teachers to sewers and water. 

"We'll see how it works out, and this is just a proposal ... and there'll probably be some changes, but I don't think there's going to be too much pushback from the non-oil-producing cities and counties — like Fargo, for example," Piepkorn said. 

Gov. Doug Burgum offered initial support for "Operation Prairie Dog," but said more work needs to be done. 

"While we are still analyzing the plan, components of it appear promising, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on proposals with transformative impact that ensure taxpayer resources are invested based on need, with a focus on smart, efficient infrastructure," he said in a July statement.

The interim Energy Transmission and Development Committee adjourned sine die Wednesday. 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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