Right now, the Superintendent of Williston Public Schools is testifying in front of the ND Legislature’s Energy Development and Transmission Committee as they have traveled to the Bakken oil field for hearings. The committee wants to see what is happening with the money North Dakota has sent out to the West and Williston is their first stop. In months to come, the committee will hold meetings in Dickinson and other oil country sites.
What am I doing out here for the NDSGA? Some ways to answer that is we want more money for our state and county roads and bridges which we are currently funding at about 30 percent of depreciation. Any group looking for money is better positioned if they know where it goes in the first place. Farmers understand that there is a need for us to keep up our transportation infrastructure to deliver and market their commodities. Money for roads comes, to a great degree, from our state legislature and I am relaying that to this committee. While some might say that it is the Oil Producing Counties vs. the rest of the state, others say to remember that the oil play has made roads better for all. Our Dept. of Transportation has been able to make their budget much larger, the state was able to give more money to all Townships and Counties, although this last session saw the end of that. Not to mention that money from the Common Schools Trust Fund went to relieve property taxes via school district funding. Other oil monies led to major gains in water projects and some money put away in the $3 billion-plus Legacy Fund. Most seem to agree that, for all the pains and problems, the oil play has been a net positive for the state.
I interviewed two oil patch soybean farmers today, one from Ray and one from Mountrail County. The first has spent years watching and fighting with the oil industry because of the problems farmers have to put up with out there. He told me today that in the past year he has come to realize that all of the growth that has been made possible in the small towns out in the patch has helped to stabilize the region, making the schools and communities viable whereas before the boom the region was slowly dying. The second grower was grinning because for the first time in his 70 some years, his fields had mostly been planted in soybeans. I believe I got one to join the NDSGA – maybe both!