Question of the Week: What Would You Do with the State Surplus?


North Dakota’s surplus is not new news, and what to do with it has been a topic of conversation not only at the Capital but most likely in every cafe, bar, or other gathering place (including the online ones) dotting the 70,700 square miles of our state. The surplus of course has been the direct or indirect topic of several posts here on SAB.

Those in the Legislature and Executive Branch of course have their own ideas on how this windfall should be managed. I have been told some in these branches actually find it is more of a challenge to have to deal with such a large surplus than when times are lean and what funding is available has to be stretched. But, not a one of them would be willing to give it up either (whether those reasons are self serving in nature, or for the good of the state is a matter of debate for another time).

With the above in mind, we thought we would focus our SAB Question of the Week on the surplus, and let you have a chance to answer the following:

North Dakota’s surplus is part of a big reason why we are the envy of the nation economically. But it’s continued growth needs to be addressed (yes, a good problem to have). If it were completely up to you, what would be done with our surplus, how would you contain it’s growth, and why?



LegitSlater is a contributor who focuses on features primarily pertaining to state and local government as well as political parties, but has been known to dabble in other areas. LegitSlater has also been known to pinch hit for Rob when he is out and about in his worldly travels, or attending the occasional Yankees-Twins series. LegitSlater's numerous awards include the personal satisfaction received from informing the vast readership of SAB, spurring respectful debate, and hunting the trophy sacred cows which have been otherwise deemed off limits by the traditional media, elected officials, and the political parties.

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  • Lianne

    You looking for a 5 page essay?

    • RCND

      Let ‘er buck!

  • Steve

    Eliminate income taxes and begin a precious metals exchange at the Bank of North Dakota to allow individuals to pay state fess/taxes in gold and silver. This would also safe guard a percentage of the surplus from our devaluing fiat currency, aka. the Dollar.

  • Roy_Bean

    Reduce taxes until there isn’t a surplus.

  • Alan

    Continue to put oil receipts into lockbox funds to protect future generations from excess taxation. Continue to invest in transportation infrastructure and where possible hold down the local and county taxes that go to maintain main county roads. Use funds to help build and maintain local schools to hold down property taxes. Reduce but do not eliminate the income tax. Set an example such as a state flat tax of 2%.

    • Rob

      Continue to put oil receipts into lockbox funds to protect future generations from excess taxation.

      Every time I hear this I get a little queasy.

      How much money do we have to lock away into government before it’s enough? What guarantees do we have that it will ever be used for tax relief?

      • Alan

        I agree with your basic point. Enough is to make sure the taxpayers are not hit hard should there be a downturn in our good fortune whether it be oil, agriculture, etc. I do not have an answer to the question of how much is enough anymore than when we have paid enough taxes (we all know they are too high and services can be reduced)

        Are there enough checks and balances to use the funds only to protect against abuse no but there never will be until we are more realistic in the election of our Governor, senators and representatives and all elected officials at any level.

  • WOOF

    Drugs, sex and rock n roll.

  • Kevin Flanagan

    They should stop taxing the income of those in the private sector. A budget surplus is evidence of fiscal incompetance.

  • RCND

    Cut ties to federal funding to a level equal to what we send out to DC, with cuts focused on those programs which bring with it onerous rules to follow (and which we can do better ourselves if we self funded the needs these programs address). We have the opportunity to get some of our sovereignty back; we need to take it

    • camsaure

      I agree, If they can not or will not let us who pay in keep more of it, tell the feds and their overreaching laws to “take a hike”.

  • Paul Overby

    Keep saving it. Alaska has a $45 billion fund. When we get there, ask the question again.

    • Rob

      $45 billion? For a state with 700,000 people?

      Why do you think locking so much money up in government is a good thing?

      • Kevin Flanagan

        Paul wants more farm subsidies.

    • awfulorv

      One of these days, with the morality, and the incompetence, of the financial gurus in Washington, that 45 Billion wont be enough to buy them the coffee for a pancake breakfast.

  • sbark

    Keep it intact and in there and maintain the status quo with exceptions to tweaks on property tax, minor income tax etc……

    ……the entire low int. rates scenario is changing toward a trend higher.

    At some point the ND Oil fund will be able to draw enough interest income to finance many road and infrastructure projects needed without touching the principle itself. Patience is a virtue at this point, no need to act like a bunch of Liberals at this point.

    What Gov D’rymple ought to consider is the Health Care Idea proposed by Dr. Bill Carson last week for N.Dak. Health Care is a State Issue, To Implement such a simple Idea with N.Dak as the leading initiator keep N.Dak in front of the pack

  • Dakotacyr

    Fix every school.
    Wire every school.
    Upgrade the Broadband throughout the state.
    Fix every bridge and road.

    Start a state scholarship fund for students in the top 25% of their class with no repayment if the student graduates for a ND state school within 4 years and remains in ND for 5 years.

    ND should be the most advanced state when it comes to our infrastructure. That will spur more businesses to come to North Dakota.

    • Rob

      In other words, spend indiscriminately because “investment” is good and anyone who disagrees hates children and roads and bridges.

      • dakotacyr

        you make shit up! Where in my comment did I write anything about spending indiscriminately? Nowhere!

        Why not make ND the envy of the country? Why not make it attractive for businesses to come here? Why not have the best roads and bridges in the country? Why not wire the entire state with the most advanced technology?

        • Rob

          Spend, spend, spend.

          You know what would make it attractive to live here? Lower taxes.

          • dakotacyr

            wrong, low taxes is not what brings businesses to ND or any state. Not to say that a reasonable tax policy is not important to a business. What brings businesses to the state is a strong infrastructure, excellent workforce and a strong education system. Also what businesses look for is communities with activities for their workforce so they want to live and work in that state.

            Now you may not believe that but Richard Florida in his book, “the Creative Class” does a study on communities and states that attract businesses and taxes are way down on the list.

          • Rob

            wrong, low taxes is not what brings businesses to ND or any state.

            That from the Department of Facts Dakotacyr Just Made Up.

  • Opinion8ed

    Eliminate property and personal income tax to minimum 10 year residents. We are all being affected and not really reaping any benefit.

    • Rob

      So, if you live here for 10 years, you pay no personal income or property tax?

      Why wouldn’t we do it for everyone? I don’t think that’s sound policy, and i’m not even sure it would be constitutional.

  • awfulorv

    Do as Putin has just done, buy Gold…

  • $8194357

    Cut property and income taxes.

  • Echo91

    Two possibilities from opposite sides of the aisle. My view: eliminate personal and corporate income taxes as well as property taxes, and provide a voucher system for private K-12 schools.
    Liberal friends of mine have suggested free higher education, both undergrad and graduate, using the surplus money. I would say that would only be fair if we did it for both public and private universities.

    • Kevin Flanagan

      Big education is already consuming too much in resources.

      • $8194357


    • sbark

      Big Ed would just once again double the cost of going to that school and chew thru the fund in a very short time.

    • ec99

      Nothing is “free.” It’s just someone else is paying for it.

  • ec99

    Before you even deal with the surplus you have to convince legislators that their purpose in meeting is not to spend money. In other words, a whole change in mindest.

  • nimrod

    The first thing to do is freeze the budget and eliminate all state income tax. If not income tax, then sales tax.

  • Geoff Bosse

    I happen to believe that it is in constitutional for any government to collect more money than it needs to sustain itself. Do the infrastructure needed and return the excess back to those who were overtaxed to begin with

  • mike from mandan

    Leave a couple hundred million in a rainy day fund and divide the rest of the surplus per capita between the 53 counties and send them a check, do this every bienium and let the Counties and townships spend the money where it is needed. That would be local control. I thought Government was supposed to be non-profit?

  • caeslinger

    Hoarding of the money (as I’m sure some would use they term), would not be an inappropriate way to use the money. This is along the same lines as what Alaska has done.

    I agree that one has to be careful to tax an industry in a manner that they are the goose that laid the golden egg. The obvious theory here would be that its an industry that everyone is clamoring for, and the money is leaving the state, therefore, we should get ours while we can. However, would this be really ANY different than the agricultural industry in the state? Most of the money is coming from outside the state to purchase those products as well. There are some fundamental differences in the way those two products are shipped to market, but there are more similarities than differences than most people would want to admit.

    I believe you continue to tax the industry at a fair, simple rate (such as the new schedule proposed) and that money should be looked at as the collective money of the State of ND. I think most people agree, as evidenced by the passage of the Legacy Fund, that that is what should happen with most of it.

    I would be for decreasing the taxes on the industry in favor of covering the cost of increased regulations that help protect the local environment as well, however.

    I do NOT believe in doing away with either our sales tax, personal income tax, or corporate tax, or property tax, in the state. I believe an appropriate level of skin in the game for all residents to remind them of the government they pay for is appropriate, although that burden could most certainly be reduced on some levels.

    The money should be looked at as an investment to improve the State. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with having that philosophy. Government is not evil, government is an extension of what the people want as a society. The debate is about what level that they should exist at. But we are talking about minerals underneath the ground of the entire state. I don’t think it should be looked at as a lottery you won when your ancestors emigrated here 100 years ago.

    • Rob

      Government is not evil, government is an extension of what the people want as a society.

      Government is a necessary evil, and will do a lot of harm if given more resources than it needs.

      I honestly don’t know why people like you are so afraid of just giving the money back to the people. If you want oil tax revenues to be collective money, fine, then use it to offset the tax burdens of individuals.

      This sort of backward, frankly ignorant, view of tax policy is going to set North Dakota up for a major fall.

      • caeslinger

        Just because there are differing views, Rob, doesn’t make them ignorant. We haven’t gotten that deep in this discussion to warrant either one of us calling the other’s views ignorant on this subject.

        First, we’ll have disagree on the government necessary evil, etc. Evil is probably the wrong word to use, we both understand what we’re trying to say, but I still think there’s a better way to say it. And we both agree that government needs absolute limitations.

        What I believe we disagree with in this instance is this: I do NOT believe the current oil and gas revenues should be used to offset greatly the individual’s tax burdens, at least to the point where there is no tax burden. I’m not sure if the idea is that all the ‘extra’ tax money should be used to eliminate the individuals/corporate tax burden and then reduced on the industry so we run a zero budget? If that is your contention, than we are miles apart to the point of no conversation. If that is NOT your contention, then what do with the revenues that come from appropriately taxing industry and individuals in this state.

        My point with government being an extension of the people is that the current society has decided that government, or the collective, should provide certain services for the general population. You and I may disagree with the types and extent of said services and their impact on our lives, but that doesn’t necessarily make them evil.

        I agree that in general, less government is better. It leads to less problems down the road for sure.

        In general, I want to see the surplus be used for one time expenses – whether that be ideas like the legacy fund or infrastructure improvements.