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'New normal' reflected in ND taxable sales, purchases, official says

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BISMARCK -- State officials hope they’ve reached the end of a fiscal slide as North Dakota's taxable sales and purchases increased for the first time in two years.

Taxable sales and purchases for the second quarter of 2017 totaled $4.69 billion, up 6.8 percent over the same quarter in 2016, Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said Tuesday, Sept. 19.

Rauschenberger said it's a sign that North Dakota's "new normal is emerging and it is comparable to pre-oil boom levels." In the second quarter of 2011, taxable sales and purchases were $4.53 billion before peaking three years later at $7.03 billion.

“I believe that we’re starting to see a rebound in the overall economy,” Rauschenberger said.

Rauschenberger pointed to gains in the mining and oil extraction sector as one positive sign. There were 55 active drilling rigs as of Tuesday, up from 32 a year ago, according to the Oil and Gas Division of the Department of Mineral Resources.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said increased efficiency has helped boost oil activity. But he said it’s “not anywhere near” the frantic pace western North Dakota saw a few years ago.

"It’s picked up a little bit, more activity going on,” Ness said. “We’re still not seeing a price that supports a whole lot more activity, but moreso the technology has allowed us to get more oil out of each well and the costs are down.”

Tuesday’s news is a bright spot for state officials after the North Dakota Legislature slashed general fund spending by more than 28 percent this year. That followed a drop in oil and farm commodity prices.

Gov. Doug Burgum warned last month that the state "will have very little cushion heading into the budgeting process" for the next two-year budget cycle unless revenues see a significant rebound. The state's general fund ended the 2015-17 biennium with roughly $66 million more than previously expected, the governor said last month.

Pam Sharp, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the uptick announced Tuesday is “probably pretty close” to the March revenue forecast.

“Maybe we have seen the bottom,” she said. “Our forecast assumes that we were at the bottom and then we were going to start to have a little growth.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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