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The 21-floor administrative tower of the state Capitol in Bismarck glows in this winter scene. With a metal sculpture of Cortes the horse on the right, the tower is flanked by the Legislative wing, left, and the Judicial wing, right, as part of the 132-acre complex. The Art Deco-designed Capitol was completed in 1934 after the previous Capitol structure was lost to fire on Dec. 28, 1930.

North Dakota's Senate unanimously passed the ambitious "Operation Prairie Dog" bill on Thursday, sending the infrastructure bill to Gov. Doug Burgum. 

House Bill 1066, nicknamed for the industrious, grassland critter, passed the House 80-12 in February after about an hour of lively floor debate. Thursday's Senate floor session saw about nine minutes of discussion, all in praise of the bill. 

"It's good to be in a legislative session where we're talking so much about infrastructure," said Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere.

The bill would fund airport, city, county and township infrastructure projects throughout North Dakota with up to $250 million in oil tax revenue to be distributed based on populations and property valuations. 

The bill also tweaks the Gross Production Tax formula but preserves funding for the designated "hub cities" of Dickinson, Minot and Williston in North Dakota's oil patch.

The House passed an amended bill that rearranged the order of the bill's proposed "buckets" filled from oil tax revenue amid other state funds. 

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, a sponsor of the bill, said "Operation Prairie Dog" means "certainty" statewide, especially for small towns that may not be saving for critical future projects. 

"This is almost like a forced savings for infrastructure," Wardner said. "So they can let this build up over 15, 16 years, and then they would have enough to match with state or federal dollars and take care of the infrastructure that they need in their community." 

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, who introduced the bill, said the bill's funding could be available as soon as the summer of 2021, depending on rates of oil prices and production. The bill would distribute funding in every biennium.

Additionally, the funding would bring reporting elements as to its use, which must fulfill certain requirements.

"We have strings attached and very stringent reporting attached to this money," Nathe told the Tribune.

Nathe has said "Operation Prairie Dog" could be a landmark bill of the 2019 legislative session. 

In a meeting with the Tribune editorial board on the day the House passed the bill, Gov. Burgum expressed reservations as to how cities may differ in their use of the funding. 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Capitol Reporter