Capitol Letters – Week 11

We’ve broken a word-count record in this week’s Capitol Letters, so we’re dispensing with the snappy introduction in favor of more commentary on an action-filled week in the North Dakota Legislature:

The right fights: Ensuring a lasting harvest from North Dakota’s oil development

Just days ago, it seemed the Republican plan to radically and recklessly reduce the oil extraction tax was barreling ahead, so to speak. After all, SB 2336, which contains the proposed oil extraction tax cut, passed the Senate 34-13 before crossover with every member of the GOP voting in favor. Considering the bill was co-sponsored by House Majority Leader Al Carlson and the chair of the Finance and Taxation Committee in that body, it seemed the bill would slide through the House like a drill bit through Bakken shale.

That was troubling to your Dem-NPL legislators and co-authors of Capitol Letters, who time and time again explained this so-called “restructuring” was not all it was fracked up to be.

You’ll remember that an initial estimate of the cost of the oil extraction tax cut, performed by the strictly non-partisan Legislative Council, projected a $595 million hit to the treasury in the first five years alone. Until recently, this was the best evidence available regarding the cost of the GOP’s proposed cut to the extraction tax.

We thought $595 million in five years seemed like a lot of money. We believed those funds could be used to fix rutted roads, invest in education, fund property tax relief, and save for the future. We therefore called the GOP oil tax plan radical and reckless. We called it those things often. And loudly. To basically anyone who would listen.

We were also using numbers that, it turns out, understated the cost of the cut by at least several hundred million dollars. So on Monday, Senator George Sinner armed himself with a calculator, a green eye-shade, and his decades of banking experience to discuss new estimates from the North Dakota Tax Department on the cost of the extraction tax cut. This projection estimated the state could lose $1.3 billion in revenue in the first half decade under the reduced tax rate. As George noted, this projection may actually be conservative depending on individual wells’ daily production levels, meaning the cost of the GOP plan could be over $3 billion. But no sense sweating the details.

It seems our message got through, because in a somewhat stunning turn of events, the North Dakota House voted overwhelmingly against SB 2336.

Is this a sign that North Dakota common sense won out over the majority’s best-laid plans?  Or is there another shoe yet to drop? Keep your eyes on your elected representatives, because HB 1234, a bill that would also dramatically cut the oil extraction tax, sits silently before the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee like a drowsy Doberman. While this misguided bill was opposed by many, including the oil industry, it presents an opportunity for late-session shenanigans by the majority and a potential resurrection of the oil extraction tax cut.

So we’re not about to do an end zone dance — it’s not our style, and frankly we’re pretty arrhythmic. Rather, we extend a hand out to the majority and pledge to work cooperatively on the many important issues facing our state. But if this is the end of the extraction tax cut, billions of dollars will continue to be available to future generations of North Dakotans to fund priorities like education and prepare our state for continued prosperity after the oil boom has passed us by. And if that’s the case, it will be, in large, because Dem-NPL legislators — people with names like Dotzenrod, Triplett, Mock, and so many others — took it upon themselves to fight the right fights for North Dakota.

Head-shaker of the week: GOP overreach on a deeply personal issue

We’re wading into tumultuous waters with this week’s head-shaker. The debate surrounding reproductive rights is emotionally charged, at the risk of stating the obvious. A confluence of faith, health, and decisions of the most highly-personal kind make this issue one that eludes consensus across society’s spectrum. By any fair measure, it also eludes easy answers.

But that’s exactly the approach that is being taken by the GOP majority. As noted by the Forum editorial board today, “the abortion bills passed, or soon to be passed, by the Republican majorities in the Legislature[,]” are 1) “unconstitutional,” 2) “astonishing violations of the patient-doctor relationship[,]” 3) “will not stop a single abortion in the state[,]” 4) “will entangle the state in expensive litigation while at the same time forc[ing] the clumsy hand of the state into the most personal matters that face families, their doctors and their clergy[,]” and 5) are “a creation of self-serving ecclesiastical bullies, who happily misuse the legislative process to advance an inappropriate and sanctimonious agenda.”

Let it all out, Forum. Just let it out. “The arguments against the bills are sound. The arguments for them are deeply flawed and dishonest.” There you go.

While North Dakota’s largest newspaper took issue with the collective “bills” advanced by the majority on this issue, a specific provision within one particular bill is also cause for head-shaking concern.

As covered by the Forum, the amendment to SB 2368, sponsored by Representative Bette Grande (R-Fargo), prevents state funds from being used to “contract with, or provide financial or other support to individuals, organizations, or entities performing, inducing, referring for, or counseling in favor of, abortions.” The catch? Research and medical training partnerships between Sanford Health and UND and NDSU stand to be outlawed under the amendment. Higher ed faculty are also calling it an assault on academic freedom, with two researchers claiming the consequences will be “mind-blowing[.]” We’d note that “mind-blowing” is even one step above “head-shaking” on the political astonishment scale we’ve been informally using this session.

The amended bill passed the House today 60 to 32 and now awaits consideration by Governor Jack Dalrymple. Speaking of, this seems an opportune time to let you know you can contact Governor Dalrymple by clicking here or dialing 701-328-2200.

We respect the differing and deeply-held beliefs on this matter of conscience. But whatever your views, the GOP majority’s actions on this issue leave you plenty to shake your head at (and possibly your fist, in a non-threatening way).

Thank you

That’s all for this edition of Capitol Letters.  Thank you for your support and faithful readership.  Until next time, keep the faith, keep up the fight, and “like” the Dem-NPL Caucus Facebook page.

Mac Schneider

Kenton Onstad

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