Roughly 34% Of North Dakota’s Budget Is Federal Money


I wrote earlier today about the national “fiscal cliff” fiasco proving that local government dependence on federal spending was foolish. I thought it would be worthwhile, in addendum, to share some of the numbers indicating just how dependent North Dakota is on federal spending.

According to a pamphlet of North Dakota’s financial facts created by the state Office of Management and Budget for legislators in advance of the upcoming session, in the 2011 – 2013 biennium federal money makes up 33.9% of total state spending:

As you can see, since the 2005 – 2007 biennium federal dollars in the state budget have increased 52.7% in relation to an overall increase of 82% in total state spending.

The share of federal spending as a percentage of overall state spending has decreased since the 2005 – 2007 biennium, from over 40% to 34%, but that has more to do with the rapid growth in spending from state revenues which has increased nearly 104% over that time.

Federal spending in North Dakota has increased dramatically even over just the last few bienniums (my numbers don’t even include federal monies going straight to county/township/municipal governments). Given the relative fiscal health of North Dakota’s budget, and the absolute mess that is the federal government’s fiscal situation, wouldn’t it make sense for North Dakota leaders to begin weening the state off federal spending so that any impending national “fiscal cliffs” in the future put the state at less risk?

That would be the prudent thing to do, but federal money is like cat nip to far too many local officials. Too often, they just can’t say no.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Rick Olson

    Some people have compared North Dakota to being a “welfare” state. In that North Dakota gets back some $1.75 in federal money for every $1 sent to Washington, D.C. in taxes. We’ve been at the head of the federal feeding trough for years. No big news here.

  • borborygmi

    I agree with you on this. North Dakota on any state could turn down Federal Money, of course still wanting the services programs funded by Fed dollars means the tax on oil will just have to stay the same.

    • Rob

      A lot of it depends on what type of federal money we’re talking about, though.

      For instance, when people talk about the $1.75 (or whatever the latest figure is) in money North dakotans get back for every $1 they send to Washington, you have to remember that a lot of that money goes to individuals. You can hardly blame state policymakers for decisions individuals farmers make to participate in federal farm programs.

      But speaking specifically to the federal dollars in the state budget (which also come with a lot of strings) we should be looking to minimize it any way we can.

      • borborygmi

        That is the kicker, the Federal Strings. It still comes down to what programs, services do you want to curtail or if you are replacing Fed funds with state funds what taxes, service charges are to be kept the same or raised to keep the spending on those services in place.
        You can not pick up a business mag. or read a newspaper where some grant was given to some organization. Pick and Chose time

        • Rob

          I agree, and i think we have a much more honest debate about these things if the debate status local. It’s too easy to pretend that federal money if other peoples money.

          If a community wants a new bridge let that community pay for it. Or, at the most, the state.

          • Rick Olson

            Rob. I totally agree with what you said. The sad part is that throughout Conrad, Dorgan and Pomeroy’s tenure in Congress…it had gotten to the point where no project of any significance would get off the ground in North Dakota without the question being asked, “How much can we get the federal government to pay for this?”

            It’s like local government entities (cities, counties, townships, school districts, etc.) were all of this mindset. “How much is this gonna cost us and how much can we soak Uncle Sam for?”

            The Three Amigos (Stooges, who whatever you care to call them) had built up enormous seniority and they were able to bring back lots of pork to the state. I kind of think this was the exact reason why the people went againt conventional wisdom when they elected Heidi Heitkamp to the Senate.

            I think the people largely wanted to make sure that there was at least one Democrat in the congressional delegation who would have the decision-makers’ ears (President Obama and administration, Harry Reid, et al).

            We’re sitting on a billion plus dollars in budget reserves, but the state’s hands are tied from spending a large part of the surplus in order to adequately fund government on the state, county and local levels because of the various funds that have been created.

          • Rob

            Parochialism is what’s really bad. Conrad, Dorgan and Pomeroy made “bringing home the bacon” a big part of their platform, and the state’s media cheered them on reporting on press release after press release detailing the latest federal dollars flowing into the state.

            Well, maybe all that federal money flowing into the state wasn’t such a good thing.

  • RCND

    They can’t say no… cause it’s “free”. what would be real interesting to know from all the state agencies is how much money is wasted complying with the grant requirements put on them from the feds in exchange for the money.

  • Dakotacyr

    You tell which republican legislator is going to say no to federal highway dollars or Medicaid money that funds the local nursing home and where they sit on the board of directors. Not one of those republicans will turn that money, not one!

    • Rob

      Oh, I think there is some federal money that some Republicans would want to turn down.

      But I wasn’t making this out to be a partisan issue, and it’s unfortunate that you see it that way. I’m just pointing out that it’s bad policy to concentrate so much local spending at the federal level.

    • RCND

      There are plenty of Dems who won’t turn down Uncle Sugar Daddy’s “gifts” either. This is one area where bipartisanship is the rule and not the exception.

  • $8194357

    Roughly 34% Of North Dakota’s Budget Is Federal Money
    All the better to build our socialist NPL state mill and elivator and banks
    surplus while raising property tax on the proletariat, my dear…
    said the wolf in sheeps clothing to little red riding hood..

  • john

    No shocker on this Rob. If it wasn’t for the feds, ND would have disappeared off the face of the map decades ago. Nothing we change. This state will always have it’s hand out because it’s roots are ingrained in socialism.

  • VocalYokel

    This is how many folks on all sides of the political spectrum measure their representatives.

    Remember, when the other guy spends it on pork / programs / and policies we don’t agree with, it’s waste.

    When our side gets to decide where the handouts go, it is a judicious use of Federal resources.

    I have yet to see any political faction willing to propose a significant fiscally responsible plan, especially one that will impact the voting blocs they want to cater to.

    That being said, it is incumbent upon the citizens of this country to take responsibility for and make a difference in their individual situations without expectations of government (read Taxpayers) largesse.

  • Joe Blurton

    The :King of Pork” started this bilking of the United States long ago…the fiscal cliff is a sure fire way to stop such nonsense and begin responsible state government.

    • nazgulflyer

      You forgot to mention that you are a convicted felon and sex offender, which might color your comments.