Voters in North Dakota charged our government with investing in the future by creating the Legacy Fund using oil and natural gas revenues. They entrusted the state legislature with this precious perpetual resource, and we have had nine years to decide how to equitably invest the earnings while saving for later.
But after failing to coalesce around a shared vision that serves all North Dakotans, the Republican majority used the available revenue only as an afterthought to backfill the General Fund budget. Meanwhile, 30,000 jobs remain open, jobs we’ve been talking about filling for several years. Cuts to health and human services in 2016 left our most vulnerable citizens in danger, and our rural communities struggle to keep up with their growing infrastructure needs.
With oil production expected to peak within five years, according to a recent report from the state Department of Mineral Resources, it’s passed time we made careful and responsible investments that put North Dakotans first, save for the future, and invest in building resilient communities.
With that in mind, as members of the Legacy Fund Earnings Committee and leaders of the Dem-NPL legislative caucuses, we recently introduced a plan that would return 20% of Legacy Fund Earnings to the principal. While that percentage adds to our savings, we would also invest an estimated $420 million into North Dakota over the next biennium using programs that prepare us for dramatic shifts that are the reality of a commodity-based economy.
Our citizens are our most important resource and when we invest in them, we know that our families are stronger, our communities are more resilient, and our state is more competitive in this low-unemployment-rate economy.
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Support our workers
The common message we hear from industry leaders and employers is they want an educated and skilled workforce, which is why we would create the Workforce Development and Lifelong Education Fund with an initial $42 million. The fund would support programs like job training and retraining as well as paid family leave and childcare. North Dakota is competing for workers, so we should encourage workplaces to be more accessible and more flexible to attract and retain the best employees.
Serving our most vulnerable
Cuts to health and human services in 2016 left people across North Dakota vulnerable, in particular those in rural communities where healthcare is hard to access. And because health and human services spending is often bolstered by federal matches, the programs feel twice and in some cases three times the impact of budget cuts. To help absorb the impact of future dramatic revenue reductions, we would create the Human Services & Health Stabilization Fund with an initial $63 million to support our nursing homes, independent living service providers, and nonprofits providing essential services to North Dakotans.
Developing resilient communities
Whether the economy booms or busts, floods or droughts, rural communities are often hit the hardest. We develop resilient communities by recognizing regional challenges and opportunities, which is why our plan invests $63 million in the Regional Economic Development Infrastructure Fund. And no matter where you go in North Dakota, roads and bridges could be better, which is why we would invest $105 million to the Highway Tax Distribution Fund. Better roads serve every part of the state and every industry.
As of now, we’re at risk of our grandchildren remembering the Legacy Fund as an opportunity wasted. It’s time for a clear and shared vision that takes all North Dakotans into consideration, a Legacy plan that works for all.
Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, is North Dakota House Minority Leader and Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, is North Dakota Senate Minority Leader.
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