District 14 Republican incumbents face no opposition in seeking seats in the North Dakota Legislature Nov. 6. Due to redistricting, the district now includes Pierce, Kidder, Wells, Sheridan and western Benson counties.
Sen. Jerry Klein, R-Fessenden, and Reps. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, and Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, are the only candidates on the legislative ballot.
Klein has been in the grocery business for 34 years. He is president of the local economic development group and active in other community organizations, including past president of the Kiwanis and Chamber of Commerce.
He has served in the state Senate since 1997, holding seats on the Agriculture and Industry, Business and Labor committees this past session. He was the Senate's President Pro Tempore in 2009-2011.
Nelson is a third-generation agricultural producer, farming since 1978 in Pierce, Rolette and Towner counties. He has served as a representative in the state House from District 7 since 1996. He has served on the House Natural Resources Committee, chairing the committee from 2003 to 2005. From 2007 to 2011, he served on the Human Resource section of the House Appropriations Committee. During the past interim, he was a member of the Water Related Topics Committee and Budget Section. He was a 1999 BILLD Fellowship member with the Council of State Government legislative leadership program.
He served 12 years on the Wolford School Board, including six years as president. He was a Rush Lake Township supervisor for 30 years and has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Good Samaritan Hospital in Rugby, member of the All Seasons Rural Water District, board member of Pierce County Farm Bureau and its state Public Finance and Education board and served on the council of Wolford Lutheran Church.
Weisz, who farms near Hurdsfield, has served in the Legislature for 16 years. He was chairman of the House Transportation Committee for four sessions and has been chairman of the Human Services Committee for the past two sessions. He also is long-time chairman of the Lynn Township Board. He has previously served on the South Central Regional Council Loan Committee and Wells County Job Development Authority.
The candidates provided the following responses on legislative issues.
1. Do you support continued property-tax relief in the upcoming biennium, and if so, what form should it take?
Klein: I am going to support property-tax relief in some form or another. I know there are folks who don't particularly like the way we do it now, but it seems to be working. We are delivering relief back to the citizens primarily through the school mills. If we can help the counties with social services to a degree, that will help the citizens because counties are burdened. There will be a variety of approaches, but we certainly are going to do the best that we can to help the citizens with property-tax relief. We have to get the citizens' money back, whether it's in the form of property-tax or income-tax relief, which I am going to be supporting.
Nelson: I have supported both direct and indirect property-tax relief in past legislative sessions and will continue to do so in the future. The Legislature has provided nearly $900 million in the past four years in direct property-tax relief in education funding. I would support that same concept to provide tax relief in county and city levies as well. The state has also provided a number of indirect forms of property-tax relief. Several examples of this would include the state taking over the administration of the Clerk of Courts offices and child support enforcement from county governments. I am working with colleagues in the Legislature to continue to assist local governments to fund areas of their budgets that are becoming too burdensome for them to administer. One possible area that is being looked at for this session will be the county social service programs.
Weisz: I definitely support property-tax reform, which would include relief. I don't think relief or reform involves giving a check back, which is what we have done. We need to look at the services that are paid for with property taxes and determine if the state should be paying for those or playing a greater role so that your local property tax truly pays for local services. It would lower your property-tax burden and the people then would know their property tax is going for the local services they have asked for. If they don't want those services, they can make that determination.
2. What should be the state's priorities for the budget surplus?
Nelson: As with any session, we must prioritize the role of state government. We must continue to invest in infrastructure to position our state for future growth. Transportation, pipeline capacity, water development, health-care delivery, community growth are areas that are in desperate need of attention, and we are in a strong position in this state to address these concerns to continue the growth our state is experiencing. We must also continue to return part of the surplus back to the taxpayers of North Dakota. In addition to providing additional property-tax relief, we must continue the lowering of income and corporate income tax rates that has been accomplished in previous sessions. Although we are experiencing unparalleled growth in our state, we know that we must also have adequate reserves to continue to deliver the services that we commit to if the current economic prosperity turns around.
Weisz: The number one priority for the state is roads and bridges or infrastructure. That's one of the greatest roles the state plays. With the economic development the state is experiencing, and it's much greater than the oil boom, that should be our priority. We have to invest in that because that's what's going to help drive the economy 10 to 20 years from now.
Klein: We know with the past couple of bad winters that our roads and bridges are going to be a major concern. We can't depend on the gas tax anymore as our sole revenue for fixing our roads and bridges. Also, before we even make a budget, we are looking at a $300 million increase in costs to continue with what exists. Lower federal reimbursements alone will require another $100 million to stay even. I think we are going to see K-12 treated fairly. We have to address issues in cities that are seeing growth."
3. Are there other issues facing your district that you would want to address in the Legislature?
Weisz: An on-going issue is the need for good, accessible health care in the rural area. The state runs Medicaid, which many of these rural hospitals are very dependent on. You want all areas of the state seeing economic prosperity. You are not going to have it if people don't feel they have access to emergency care or general care. They will not stay in rural areas very long if they feel that is deficit.
Klein: Roads and bridges in general are not only a big issue across the state but they are a big issue in each and everyone's district. It's something that we need to look at and address. The other issue is to help the counties that are being burdened with the increases in their social services budgets.
Nelson: District 14, like any rural legislative district in the state, has the same needs for infrastructure and community needs that every other district in the state has. It is important that we as rural leaders make sure that rural residents have a strong voice in setting state policy on their behalf. One area of immediate concern to rural North Dakota is health-care delivery. I believe our rural hospitals face a critical time, and we as rural leaders must develop policies that ensure that we have a network of rural health-care delivery that meets the needs of our constituents.