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Legislative Report District 22: Diversion major issue affecting session now at halfway mark

By Rep. Wesley Belter

The Legislature reached the halfway point on Thursday, Feb. 28. We will reconvene on March 6 with a full set of hearings scheduled.

The Fargo diversion has been a major issue in the local Fargo news. Much of it is misinformation from my perspective. The House has passed $100 hundred million in aid for the city of Fargo to be used to get the current dikes built to the 42 and-a-half foot level. This has to be the first priority for Fargo whether federal funding is approved for the diversion project or not. Fargo was also granted $15 million to upgrade their water plant because of the increased salts due to the drainage from the Devils Lake basin. A commitment of $325 million was also made to meet the state’s share of the diversions projects original cost estimate if approved by the federal government. The language in the bill that stated that no public funds could be used for the diversion was not meant to mean any federal or local funds. That statement will be amended out when it is heard in the senate. Eleven million dollars was also included for bringing fresh water to Fargo. Flooding is of great concern for the valley, but a water shortage has to be a high priority for the valley.  Another dry summer like 2012 could put Fargo water supplies in jeopardy. Twenty percent of the state’s entire water project budget has been set aside for Fargo, so a lot of the criticism of not doing enough for Fargo from my perspective is unjustified.

The House passed $740 million in property tax payments from the state. The homestead and disabled veteran tax credit was increased from $12 to $26 million. Since 2007 the state will have paid $1.5 billion of the local property tax. The house has passed $2.3 billion for roads, $219 million for oil impact grants for western N.D., $520 million for water projects, and $62.7 million dollars for emergency services, fire and law enforcement.

The Senate has voted to spend $800, 000 to buyout the contract of the Chancellor for Higher Education. I do not support that move. I don’t know whether Chancellor Shirvani is the right man for the job, but it seems that anytime we get a Chancellor there is an uprising in the higher education any time any changes or challenges to the system are proposed. We have a fine higher education system, but that does not mean that we should not make some changes. The diploma mill at Dickinson State and the cost overrun on the NDSU president’s home are just a couple of examples of mismanagement that we have seen in higher education.

Representative Pete Silbernagel will represent District 22 at the multi district legislative forum that will be held at West Fargo  City Hall on March 9.T he next District 22 legislative forum will be in Casselton on March 16.