Does the Red River Diversion Authority have designs on the North Dakota Legacy Fund to bail out their project? Fargo and Cass County don’t have enough money to pay their share of the diversion. Some believe the local share has been understated by as much as a billion dollars.
The DA has been re-working their financial plans ever since the North Dakota Legislature didn’t approve their request for increases in funding this spring. At the same time, leaders in Bismarck have called for public input on how the state’s $5.3 billion Legacy Fund should be used.
The Legacy Fund was approved by voters in 2010 to set aside tax revenues from oil and gas extraction in western North Dakota. The legislature can decide how earnings from the fund can be used. House Majority leader Chet Pollert says he wants to hear from residents how the money should be spent.
It seems likely he will get an earful from diversion supporters. Even though North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum did not try to tap into the fund for the diversion in the last session, his recent editorial in local newspapers seems to outline a case to do it in the future. Burgum lists guidelines that appear tailor made for DA leaders to plead their case. Historically, Cass County has argued they have a share of oil revenues coming because their taxes have financed the state in the past. Burgum invested political capital in the project as he expended an enormous amount of time an effort to get then-Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to order a permit for the plan.
Majority Leader Pollert and other legislative leaders shouldn’t be too quick to distribute one time natural resource revenues to the cost hemorrhaging project. Any project worthy of Legacy Fund revenues should be required to have benefits at least equal to the costs. The Minnesota DNR calculated the benefit cost ratio for the diversion to be less than .5. That means for every public dollar spent on the ditch and dam, residents will see 50 cents of benefits. The chief beneficiaries of the inflated project costs are local developers and employees of the St. Paul Army Corps office.
Gov. Burgum says spending from the fund should “have lasting impacts beyond our current generation.” Diversion leaders say their project is a “multi-generational” project because it extends taxes more than 50 years into the future.
North Dakotans deserve better than to deplete the Legacy Fund for local largess. Revenue from the fund should be used to make a bigger state, not build a moat between the haves and have nots. The Legacy Fund is ripe for pillaging. We all should be on our guard.
JPA Editorial Team