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Dealing with great opportunity for state session focus

Rep. Peter Silbernagel

As I prepare this update we are on day 75 of the allowable 80 legislative days. With a little luck, by the time this appears we will have finished our work at the 63rd Legislative Session. Several major pieces of legislation remain to be brought to a conclusion and conference committees will be meeting on Saturday to insure that work is completed in the required 80 days.

One of the major issues to resolve is that of tax reduction for the citizens of North Dakota. Property tax relief remains on the horizon and is included in two different approaches by the House and the Senate. The House bill includes significant reforms tied to their proposal that includes greater transparency in calculating and reporting of property taxes. It also includes caps on political subdivisions and requires them to seek voter approval when seeking to exceed those caps. I favor the reform that is included in the House's approach to property tax reduction. Without the reform piece, state property tax reduction will be less likely to be recognized by taxpayers.

Another priority that needs to be finalized in the next few days is the higher education funding. The Governor's new formula for funding higher ed, I believe will be adopted. The piece that is still in question is the level of funding based on the new formula. I support the Governor's new formula and it appears that the funding level will be something less than the Governor requested. I believe the level will be somewhat determined by overall spending levels in other areas.

Oil and gas production and extraction tax rates will also come to a head in the next few days. There are two key components the legislature is trying to address, stripper well properties and price triggers. I hope that we are able to fix these two issues in a revenue neutral approach. I believe that by resolving these two issues without increasing the tax burden on producers is important to insure the long-term stability in our state's revenue without risking reduced production.

This past week the Governor signed HB 1302 which substantially reformed North Dakota's drunk driving laws. The new law increases the penalties on DUI offenders and incentivizes sobriety and treatment. It also provides funding for preventative education. This bill has been long-awaited by many citizens and I am thankful to see this bill pass. This bill will help to save lives and begins to further emphasize the responsible use of alcohol. As one legislator stated, "The goal of this legislation cannot eliminate senseless deaths, but it is our duty to decrease their likelihood". I believe this legislation will help to achieve that goal.

HB 1020 is the water commission bill and it includes funding for the Fargo Diversion. As proposed, the state will be authorized to spend $450 million over the next several bienniums. This is contingent upon federal authorization, an executed partnership agreement, federal appropriation and reporting requirements that are required for the project to proceed. The balancing act on this measure is that of providing a level of certainty that the state will participate in the project and certainty that funding and impact issues are resolved. The conversation regarding the Fargo Diversion will not end with the 63rd legislative session. Some supporters of the Fargo Diversion have been less than happy with the legislative process to secure state funding. However, dotting the "I's" and crossing the "t's" before moving forward on a two billion dollar project only makes sense.

I will submit a final report after the session has ended to recap my freshman term as your District 22 Representative. Once again I want to thank the voters for the opportunity to have this great privilege to serve. The session has been one of dealing with great opportunity for our state. We are blessed indeed.