The money just keeps flowing into North Dakota's financial reserves, and that means vital decisions must be made.
Budget Director Pam Sharp estimated that the state's surplus is expected to reach $2 billion within a year, buoyed by oil revenue and rising income and sales taxes. The state's four reserve funds already contain $1.2 billion in cash, and all are expected to keep growing.
Obviously, this leads to an inevitable question:?What to do with that money.
Some would say the government shouldn't be holding that much money in reserve, that the funds could be spent immediately on infrastructure and other building needs, as well as providing residents with property tax relief.
Certainly there are pressing needs around the state, notably roads, infrastructure, housing and schools in the western part of the state where the ongoing oil boom has created difficulties in all those areas. And further reduction in property taxes would be most appreciated, as well. Yet it wouldn't be prudent to empty the reserve funds.
The 2013 Legislature will have its work cut out for it come January, with lawmakers from across the state formulating ways to spend the state's money. But much of the money is protected, including as the Legacy Fund, which can't be touched until 2017. And lawmakers can't use the school reserve fund unless state aid allocations come up short, which isn't likely to happen.
Yes, it's good to be one of only a few states that have a budget surplus. but with that fact comes great responsibility. Those making financial decisions for the state must be aware of the state's immediate needs, but must also look into the future and maintain a proper vision for the state's longterm financial viability.