One Almost Gets The Idea That John Hoeven Invented Oil Or Something

Former North Dakota Governor, and current US Senator, John Hoeven takes to the pages of Human Events today extolling his own economic record.

Amid all the hearty slapping of his own back one gets the sense that Hoeven may be a little irritated that his former second-in-commander, Lt. Governor-turned-Governor Jack Dalrymple has been getting national attention for North Dakota’s economic success.

Hoeven credits himself with having created a tax environment in the state that’s conducive to business, but when he was governor he joined with union interests in the state to kill a ballot initiative that would have cut personal and corporate income taxes. In fact, Hoeven’s idea of major tax relief was a property tax scheme that had the state spending more at the local level in exchange for locals reducing their property taxes. But as anyone with a modicum of common sense knows, that’s not tax relief. That’s a tax shift.

Hoeven also credits his economic development policies, which has state and local economic development committees handing out special subsidies and tax breaks to specific companies. Essentially, picking winners and losers in a sort of policy that’s really not all that different from what the Obama administration did with Solyndra. North Dakota, in fact, has plenty of its own Solyndras. The Obama administration lost hundreds of millions of dollars on Solyndra. Here in North Dakota, on a smaller scale, the state lost millions on Alien Technology. The City of Bismarck lost (or, more accurately, is in the process of losing) millions on the Northern Plains Commerce Center.

Hoeven would have you believe that it was his policies, and his steady hand on the tiller, which steered North Dakota to success. This is nonsense. North Dakota struck oil, and has had some pretty good years in agriculture of late, and that’s it.

Now, to be fair, Hoeven and the state’s other political leaders deserve a measure of credit for keeping a relatively light regulatory hand on energy and business in general. But the reason why North Dakota’s coffers are full of tax revenues, the reason why income is growing in the state and unemployment is at rock-bottom levels, is because we struck oil in the state.

In fact, a case can be made for Hoeven being an irresponsible leader. Under Hoeven’s stewardship, the state’s budget has grown by 125% over the last decade. Not even the federal government has been growing spending that fast.

If oil production in North Dakota went away tomorrow, the unemployment rate would skyrocket. Massive slash-and-burn efforts would be needed to bring the state budget in line with plummeting tax revenues. The economic growth we’ve enjoyed of late would stagnate.

Hoeven is, quite frankly, a political lottery winner. He was elected to office after two terms of tough belt-tightening under former Governor Ed Schafer brought on when the state’s previous oil boom petered out. The hard work being done, and the state’s economy turning around, Hoeven was able to take over the tiller just in time for the state’s next oil boom and then credit himself for the state’s resulting economic boom.

Success he’s now ridden into the US Senate.

North Dakota is healthy economically, but it didn’t have a lot to do with John Hoeven.

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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