District 4 has three incumbents vying for two its seats in the Legislature as a result of redistricting after the 2010 census.
Rep. Glen Froseth, R-Kenmare, represented District 6 for 20 years, but now finds himself running for re-election from District 4. Current District 4 House members, Reps. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, and Tom Conklin, D-Douglas, are joined on the Democratic ticket by incumbent Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder. Republican Daryl Lies of Douglas, who served in the House by appointment to fill a vacancy in 2007-2008, also is running for the House.
District 4 includes most of rural Ward, rural Mountrail and a portion of Dunn counties.
Froseth is former owner and publisher of the Kenmare News in Kenmare, where he has lived since 1968. Semi-retired, he also is a co-owner of Greater Northwest Publishing in Minot. He was first elected to the House in 1992.
Lies is involved in the family farm, raising livestock. He also is an auctioneer and operates Daryl's Racing Pigs, a business he started at age 14. He has served on several county and state boards for various organizations and currently is involved with the local sportmen's club and as a 4-H leader.
Warner has represented District 4 in the Legislature since 1996, first in the House and since 2004 in the Senate. He served four sessions on legislative Appropriations Committees, two sessions on the Legislative Council and is a past chairman of the 11-state and four-province Council of State Government's committee on Human Resources. He has chaired interim committees on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Warner is a fifth-generation Ward County farmer and serves on the boards of Verendrye Electric Cooperative, the Fort Stevenson Foundation, Rural Leadership North Dakota and the Minot Symphony Orchestra.
Onstad has served in the House since 2000, serving last session on the Judiciary and Transportation committees. He is a township officer, president of Parshall 2000 and member of First Lutheran Church Parshall. He is employed by Mountrail Williams Electric Cooperative, working with landowner relations and business development.
Conklin farms and ranches in the Douglas area. He was elected to the House in 2008 and has served on the Agriculture and Human Services committees.
Candidates provided responses to the following questions.
1. Do you support continued property-tax relief in the upcoming biennium?
Warner: I support continued property-tax relief but I also think that this is the perfect opportunity to untangle some of the overlapping responsibilities between the state and the local subdivisions. We have made some remarkable progress on transferring the responsibility for instructional costs to the state and leaving the capital construction decisions to the local school districts. I would like to see a similar effort made with things like foster care placement, mental health evaluations for prisoners and incarceration costs for felons who will eventually be sentenced to state institutions. These are all unnecessary burdens on counties and having the state take over responsibility has the effect of lowering property tax. In addition, the state should be looking to ways to transfer general fund money to road construction in the counties and townships. The traditional way of funding roads through a gas tax has been an efficient and fair way to raise the necessary funds but with ever increasing fuel standards and rapidly accelerating inflation in construction, the gap is widening, and we will be looking at a crisis across the state in the coming years if we don't find some new ways to fund our secondary road system.
Onstad: I do support continued property-tax relief for schools. I have a concern that the current method is not fair for each school district, and if it was discontinued, it would raise our property tax an additional 30 percent. That would not be good. We need to find a way to increase funding for schools to lower property tax and provide more local control for each district.
Conklin: I do support property tax-relief in the upcoming biennium. There are numerous areas that are county-funded that should be the state's responsibility. One that comes to mind is that if someone is sentenced to the state penitentiary and they have been in county jail for two months, the county is now picking up the tab for those two months. I believe this should be the state's responsibility to pay for those two months. There are also many areas in the human services department that I believe are the state's responsibility. The state cannot continue to lay its responsibilities on the counties and townships. If the state pays for its responsibility, counties will be able to lower property taxes.
Lies: Property-tax relief and reform is a priority for me. We need to look at several avenues to accomplish this. Proper state funding of education and infrastructure will play a major role.
Froseth: Yes, I support continued property-tax relief. I served on the Finance and Tax interim committee and we forwarded a bill draft to the next legislative session that will continue the 75 mill buy-down of school property taxes. This will offer $400 million in property-tax relief to all property owners in the state. We also reviewed another bill draft to offer a homestead credit on the primary residence of homeowners in the state. This will have the state pay for a $75,000 valuation reduction of property taxes to homeowners under the age of 65 and $125,000 valuation reduction to homeowners over the age of 65. This amounts to nearly $400 million in additional property tax relief. This is also in addition to the present homestead credits now being offered. Other tax relief proposals are also being proposed, such as income and corporate tax reductions, and I am considering proposing a reduction in state sales tax, if elected to another term.
2. Should there be changes in the oil tax distribution to cities and counties?
Froseth: Yes, the oil tax distribution formula should be changed again, much similar to what we did last session. More of the oil and gas tax revenue should be returned to the 19 oil-producing counties. Larger portions should go to cities, counties and townships. Also, more funds should be added to the oil and gas impact grant fund for infrastructure and emergency equipment and services in oil-producing counties.
Lies: We need to do a better job of allocation of oil tax revenue to all city, county and, let's not forget, township governments. We need to simplify the formula and give the local governments that have an impact from energy production better availability to the funds that are needed for infrastructure.
Warner: There needs to be a significantly larger amount of money returned through the formula, not only to the oil-producing counties but also to those counties, like Ward, that face significant impact without having significant production. I also think that we need to limit the oil-impact funds to emerging areas of oil production or areas around the margins. Even with the large increase in the amounts dedicated to the impact grants, local entities still have trouble planning for expansion projects that may require financing 20 or 30 years out when they compete for small amounts of money every grant round. The money should be returned to the affected areas in the form of block grants and the decisions made by local government according to the needs of their particular area.
Conklin: There should be changes in the oil-tax distribution. I believe that a portion of the tax should be distributed directly to the counties that are affected by oil production before the current formula for distribution is applied. This would eliminate the need for many of the current grant programs that pits city against city and is open for abuse.
Onstad: Definitely need to make changes. We should increase the distribution formula to cities and counties to a minimum of 40 percent. Remove the caps that are currently in place to cities and schools. I believe we should provide an oil loan program similar to the coal loan program currently in place that is paid back with future revenue from the oil formula.
3. To what extent does the state have responsibility to help oil-affected communities with housing, law enforcement, roads, child care and impact-related concerns?
Conklin: The oil taxes that the state corrects are in lieu of property taxes. As such, the state should pay for anything the oil-affected communities would otherwise pay for with property taxes that they would be receiving from the oil wells in their counties.
Onstad: When the production tax was implemented it was agreed by the oil counties to not assess a property tax. Because of that agreement, the state has the responsibility to fund the impacts created by oil and gas exploration. The impacts should not be placed entirely on the local property-tax payer, who is not the cause of the current impacts.
Warner: One of the most serious challenges to oil-affected communities has been the lag of time between the start of development and when they start to receive revenue from the oil taxes. There are many areas where the growth of housing in the area will eventually provide the tax structure for the capital costs of education, water and sewer projects and the like, but the initial gap between demand and supply is crippling many oil-impacted communities. We need to look at something like interest-free loans from state funds to help local political subdivisions fill that gap. A special situation for school districts dealing with rapidly expanding populations is that the current funding formulas pay foundation aid based on the previous year's enrollment. Many school districts have good data that indicates what their likely enrollment will be a year in advance and then have to wait two years before the money flows to meet that need.
Froseth: I believe the state should assist communities with housing and community services in the form of impact grants, or low-interest loans. Long-term investments in infrastructure are difficult for our small communities to make as capital is often difficult to obtain. It is also difficult to place large assessments on the present property owners to finance new infrastructure that will take years to pay off. The needs are immediate, but the payoff for these needs will take years to accomplish.
Lies: There are many infrastructure needs such as water, sewer and roads that the state needs to put as top priority. We also need to keep in mind the safety of the people and have more participation in emergency services such as ambulance, fire and law enforcement.
4. What should be the state's priorities for the budget surplus?
Lies: If we do a proper job of addressing the issues related to the first three questions, they will be the priorities for the money available in the budget. We have some catch up in those areas, and we need to do it this session!
Froseth: The budget surplus is a real bonus for the state something almost no other state in the nation can boast of. However, we now have the opportunity to build the state infrastructure that will be sound and solid for several generations to come. At the same time, we also have the opportunity to save a portion of our surplus revenue to secure a sound future for the state for years to come.
Conklin: If the state assumes its responsibility in paying for the needed repairs to the infrastructure in the whole state, it will relieve counties and townships of the burdens that they now face. I don't believe there will be a surplus. The money the state receives should be spent for the good of the citizens of this state so that when this oil boom slows down or quits, we can look back and say look at all the good roads housing and flood control that OUR oil brought us.
Onstad: We have put in place the Legacy Fund to save part of the surplus for future generations. Infrastructure across the entire state needs a long-range plan and not the fix-and-repair mentality we currently have. Education must still remain a priority for our state, along with handling emergency services in each rural community
Warner: We need to be cautious and prudent about undermining the traditional three-legged stool of income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes that has funded government since statehood with tax giveaways to powerful special interests. When this ends, and it WILL end, we could find our fiscal structure imploding at the very time when a declining economy makes it impossible to raise needed revenues. I very much support the concept of the Legacy Fund as a way to buffer the ups and downs of the oil boom and believe that we are on the right track with property-tax reform that shifts some responsibilities to the state.
5. Are there other issues facing your district that you would want to address in the Legislature?
Froseth: We worked very hard last session to ensure District 4 would get their share of oil and gas royalties for school districts who lost lands to the federal government due to creation of Lake Sakakawea. We need to be diligent to ensure that those who gave up property and property rights to create the enormous growth in western North Dakota receive the compensation they need for these sacrifices.
Lies: District 4, like almost every district in the state, has huge infrastructure concerns that need to be met, and that is top priority for me.
Onstad: Funding for education needs to be improved for our rural communities. They are now investing in real estate for housing rather than educating our youth. Our rural schools already have a disadvantage to our big-city cousins and now an added condition. Law enforcement is stressed and needs further assistance.
Warner: I hope that we will have a renewed resolve to finish rural water projects throughout the state. Watching the water needs of oil and oil development leapfrog over long-awaited rural water projects has been heartbreaking. In many cases, farm families have waited since the 1970s for promised water only to see that water infrastructure provided to oil interests and still not be able to turn on that tap in their homes or farms. Issues affecting rural ambulance and emergency services as well as rural medical providers who are being overwhelmed with unpaid bills from oil workers are going to need to be addressed.
Conklin: Our district is the heart of oil production, and infrastructure is the overwhelming need and must be addressed.