For Governor Dalrymple, North Dakota’s Budget Surplus Depends On The Political Context


It’s interesting to watch how North Dakota’s political leadership, particularly Governor Jack Dalrymple, discuss the state’s budget.

In the context of Governor Dalrymple’s campaign for four more years in office, the surplus is spoken of as if it were a pile of money in the state capital somewhere. “Our growing budget surpluses,” is how the governor described the situation while delivering the GOP’s weekly address in March of this year. When he announced his 2012 campaign, the governor referenced “our large cash reserves.”

Cash reserves. You’d think there’s a vault full of money somewhere, complete with a diving board, just ready for Scrooge McDuck-style swimming.

The tone changes quite a bit, though, when the subject isn’t re-election but rather maybe giving some of the taxpayers some real tax relief. When it comes to actually lowering tax burdens, not just buying down local property taxes with statewide revenues, Dalrymple says there’s not actually any surplus at all.

Case in point, Governor Dalrymple discussing Measure 2 with the New York Times:

For his part, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, said he opposed the property tax ban. “It’s mind-boggling, really,” he said, in an interview, of the effects of such a ban. “We’d be changing everything, frankly.”

The notion, he said, that the state has enough surplus to replace property taxes for localities around the state without raising other taxes is false. For starters, he said, much of the state’s benefits from the oil boom are already dedicated legally to particular funds and cannot simply be transferred to support schools, counties, towns, park districts and the like.

Former Governor Ed Schafer actually disagrees with Dalrymple on the idea that there’s not enough surplus to cover eliminating property taxes without raising other taxes (though Schafer opposes Measure 2 on other grounds). Here’s video.

But setting the Measure 2 issues aside, Dalrymple’s situational treatment of North Dakota’s budget surplus is extremely irritating. He both wants credit for a big budget surplus while simultaneously claiming that there is no surplus. Or, put another way, he wants us to believe that the surplus is already spent. No doubt because he already has plans on how to spend it all, racking up what will no doubt be another massive increase in the state’s budget which has already more than doubled in the going-on 12 years he and former Governor John Hoeven have been in office.

Dalrymple claims in his campaign literature that he’s for lowering tax burdens, but from the variance in his positions on the surplus one gets the idea that he’d really like to keep all of the money tied up in spending.

How does that make him different than his opponent, Democrat Ryan Taylor? It doesn’t, really.

Rob Port

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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