Legislative redistricting has given a new look to District 6, creating changes for voters.
Three incumbents are running, although one is new to the district.
District 7's Rep. Dick Anderson, R-Willow City, seeks to represent District 6 in the state House. He is joined on the ballot by Republican House candidate Myron Hanson of Souris, and Republican Senate candidate Pam Smith of Bottineau.
Sen. David O'Connell, D-Lansford, is seeking another term, having served in the Legislature since 1983. Rep. Bob Hunskor, D-Newburg, also is seeking re-election, while Cindy Shattuck of Velva is seeking the other House seat for the Democrats.
District 6 includes Renville, Bottineau and McHenry Counties.
O'Connell served in the House from 1983 to 1988 and in the Senate since 1989. He served as Senate minority leader for eight years. He most recently served on the Appropriations Committee and has sat on the budget, education and transportation committees.
Hunskor grew up on the family farm near Newburg and served in the military before entering a career in teaching and coaching at Newburg. He is retired.
Cindy Shattuck has been employed at Verendrye Electric Cooperative for more than 33 years. She has been a First Responder/driver on the Velva Volunteer Ambulance Service since 2002. She serves on the St. Cecilia's Church Council as secretary and is a board member Velva Association of Commerce and Velva Medical Clinic. She previously served as mayor of Velva for eight years, as state president of the North Dakota League of Cities and as state president of General Federation of Women's Club as well as on a variety of local boards.
Pamela Smith, a Bottineau native, spent 20 years serving her country around the world before returning to North Dakota, where she is a senior program liaison to the Secretary of Defense, Military Community and Family Programs Office. She was recently appointed to the Mitt Romney Military Family Committee.
Myron Hanson farms in the Souris area and has served as a teacher, principal, superintendent, school board member and member of the Westhope Nursing Home Board. He is president of the Northwest Landowners Association, president of his local church council, and serves on the board of the Souris River Cooperative. He has been a hunter safety instructor for more than 25 years.
Anderson was elected to the House in 2010 and served on the Energy and Natural Resources and Human Services committees. He farms and has been involved with numerous boards and organizations related to agriculture, health care, water development and transportation.
The candidates provided responses to the following questions.
1. Do you support continued property-tax relief in the upcoming biennium?
O'Connell: Yes, I am a strong supporter of property-tax relief. However, I am not a fan of property-tax relief through the school mill buy down because it benefits the larger school districts that have a high mill levy. The school districts that were conservative are at a disadvantage, and the property owners don't receive their fair share. I would support a mill levy buy down that is equal across the board. I believe everyone should have the same percentage of relief, whether it's residential, commercial or agriculture.
Hunskor: The initiative to eliminate property taxes was defeated in June. As a result, the property tax issue must be a high priority, resulting in substantial tax relief, or a similar initiative may be on the ballot in the near future, and the result may be different. I support options for property-tax relief as recommended by the Interim Tax Committee: an annual exemption of $75,000 on the value of a primary residence; an annual exemption of $125,000 on the value of a primary residence if those living in that residence are 65 years of age or older; a 10 percent across-the-board reduction on primary residence, agriculture and commercial property. I would also support continuing the existing method of property-tax relief through mill levy reductions, which totaled $342 million for the current biennium.
Shattuck: I support tax reform and relief. Residents across the state are being forced from their lifelong homes in part from property tax and escalating increases in cost of living. We need a direct decrease in tax by lowering the assessed value of your home in which you reside. We should look at a more permanent solution for lowering property taxes. The current program is basically from biennium to biennium. Property-tax payers need a more secure comfort level when looking long range.
Smith: Yes, I definitely support continued property-tax relief. I think it is imperative the N.D. Legislature puts forth a long-term solution that lightens the tax burden but does not negatively impact the needs of our local communities. Although I'm concerned about people like my dad, Floyd Pritchard, who is retired and lives off of a fixed retirement income, it is important that our property-tax relief benefit all people who live and work in North Dakota.
Anderson: Yes, I support property-tax relief. I will support a bill that hopefully reduces the tax burden by a substantial amount. I would like to see the tax relief target all residential property owners and a provision that would enhance relief for the senior citizens who have fixed incomes. I do not believe property owners that do not live in North Dakota should receive as much of a reduction as senior citizens and residents.
Hanson: I support the continued effort for tax relief. Property tax relief through additional funding for K-12 education, which is the biggest line item on a property tax statement, is the quickest, most direct way to reduce property taxes. Additionally, a reduction in the income-tax rate would aid in reducing the overall tax burden on North Dakota residents. A number of other plans have been floated for consideration on this issue and careful consideration of each, or a combination of some elements of each, should lead to tax relief for the citizens of North Dakota.
2. Should there be changes in the oil tax distribution to cities and counties?
Smith: We are seeing some significant needs in our oil-impacted communities. To ensure that our great state of North Dakota continues to grow and prosper, cities and counties need to receive oil taxes based on their needs rather than an equal distribution formula. The oil tax distribution regulations need to be flexible so that the state can provide support to local communities, as they need it, while supporting the needs of the entire state.
Hanson: Changes to the distribution formula need to be made so the counties affected by this activity get to keep more of the money locally so that they can respond more quickly to local needs. The townships, as well, need to get a larger share of this revenue. Local township roads take a good share of the abuse from the excess traffic, yet these entities are last in the distribution formula, and many townships simply don't have the money for the ongoing repair and maintenance of the roads critical to both agriculture and the oil industry.
Anderson: I'm not convinced that a change in the oil distribution tax is the best method to get the proper funding to the areas that need additional help. There are some areas that might not have as much oil production but still have oil-impact issues. I would like to see county commissioners, township supervisors and city officials have the most input when dealing with the needs of their communities. Good decisions need to be made locally with state help. The legislators need to listen, develop policy and provide the necessary funding that will resolve the impact issues.
O'Connell: Yes, change is necessary. Currently, the distribution is based on a complex formula that, in my opinion, does not provide nearly enough funds to the local governments. I would like to see the percentage of oil and tax royalties double and from that increase see the directly impacted local entities receive at least 60 percent, with the remaining amount going to the state. More money does need to remain with the 17 oil-field counties and their local entities because they are seeing and feeling the impact more quickly. The local entities shouldn't have to wait until damages or shortages happen and then seek help. They need to get ahead of the curve with law enforcement, housing, and human service needs. However, the entire state is being affected by the traffic and housing shortage, so there needs to be some accountability to all our citizens.
Shattuck: In talking to the citizens who are directly impacted by the oil industry, they are finding the tax distribution does not cover the cost incurred to maintain or strengthen their current infrastructure. We need to increase the funding for oil producing counties. North Dakota is returning only 11 percent funding compared to surrounding oil-producing states that fund a 40 percent average of revenue. In addition oil-impact dollars, which are capped at $100 million, are not enough to meet current needs. For example, there is more than $700 million in requests to the State Land Board, indicating a dire need to make the capitol investments necessary to deal with this oil boom.
Hunskor: The 2011 Legislature Assembly provided increased funding to all North Dakota political subdivisions in many forms. For the year ending June 30, 3012, oil-tax revenues to oil counties totaled $103,464,640 and to cities in those counties another $14,612,837 was allocated. In addition, $135 million was made available for grants to oil-impacted political subdivisions. While it is true oil counties and cities will need increased funding, it is also true that non-oil counties and cities have issues that are a direct result of increased oil activity. Non-oil-producing subdivisions must also be adequately compensated to help defray their additional expenses.
3. To what extent does the state have the responsibility to help oil-affected communities with housing, law enforcement, roads, child care and impact-related concerns?
Shattuck: The state should help in funding a percent of the cost increases because of the impact placed on local communities. A percent tax collected from the oil industry should be directed to oil-impact areas immediately. We should not wait for the Legislature to meet every other year to disperse the funds. North Dakota has a responsibility to develop public policy to address all of these concerns. As an example, critical emergency services with adequate health-care facilities and day-care centers are vital to a thriving community. Aging public schools and overcrowded conditions present a problem for our greatest asset our children. School funding increases should be a priority. The amount of participation varies, but when it comes to the public welfare, the state should be involved and share responsibility.
Hunskor: The services provided by local government have been left to local government to administer. The Legislature has always monitored the delivery of services and tried to provide funding necessary to support quality services. I believe the 2013 Legislative Assembly will enhance state funding assistance in areas and programs that need additional dollars. For the 12 months ending Sept. 30, the State Aid Distribution fund allocated $53,948,671 to counties and $46,514,404 to cities. This is an increase of 43 percent from the previous 12 months and an indication of the amazing growth of North Dakota's economy. This revenue is from a dedicated 0.4 of 1 percent of state sales tax. I would support increasing the dedicated portion to 0.6 of 1 percent, resulting in a 50 percent funding increase to counties and cities. Such action would not increase sales taxes but would re-direct a greater portion to the counties and cities.
O'Connell: We have to go beyond what is simply expected or acceptable to being an example of how to do it right. With all the issues that come with sudden growth, there is the possibility for people to fall through the cracks. But there is also the potential to raise people up and have them be valuable and contributing North Dakota citizens. Through the Bank of North Dakota, we can provide assistance in the form of loans, grants or expertise to help develop opportunities and encourage people to become permanent residents.
Anderson: The state has a lot of responsibility to deal with all these issues from our growing pains associated with the oil boom. Our citizens need to live in safe communities with affordable housing and other services that one expects. The whole state benefits from the oil resource development, and we need to help the areas that are affected by it.
Hanson: The state is reaping huge benefits from this bonanza at the moment and must aid the local political subdivisions with priority given to transportation, education, law enforcement, housing and water projects. Obviously, the oil-producing counties where the impact is the greatest need to receive the majority of the aid, but there are statewide concerns for transportation, flood control and housing that need to be looked at, also. One important thing to keep in mind, though, is that in deciding on how to fund these items, careful consideration needs to be given to the fact that the monies used to support these projects are derived from a commodity that historically is cyclical in nature and these funds may not be as abundant in the future. This session, and quite possibly the next one as well, will need to follow a conservative approach to make sure that these needs will continue to be met 20 to 30 years down the road.
Smith: The state has extensive responsibility to ensure that North Dakota continues to be a great place for businesses, workers and families to live. We need to ensure that our communities have what they need for strong economic growth to include affordable housing, quality education and child care, growing businesses, employment opportunities for spouses and strong law enforcement to keep our people safe. As these communities are growing, we need to continue to diversify North Dakota economy so these communities can remain strong for the future.
What should be the state's priorities for the budget surplus?
Anderson: The state's priorities should be infrastructure repair and improvement, tax relief, K-12 education and water resource development.
Hanson: The state priorities should be additional funding for K-12 education, for property tax relief, transportation needs, housing, water projects and public safety issues with more funding to the Highway Patrol and the local county and municipal law enforcement agencies.
Smith: We have to understand that it is not our money. It belongs to the taxpayers. How we handle the surplus will have an impact on future generations. We have to be practical and hard headed in how we spend the taxpayers' money. Tax relief coupled with wise spending practices will provide a balanced approach to continue our prosperity. We have infrastructure needs that will require wise and prudent spending decisions. How we allocate our taxpayers' money will be a major task for the state Senate. It is imperative that District 6 has a voice at the Majority side of the table. The Majority Party will decide how the money gets spent, and I will be seated in the Majority Party caucus.
Hunskor: While the Legislature increased funding for reducing property taxes, assisting with challenges in oil country, helping flood victims, increasing education funding and providing increases to allow counties and cities to deal with infrastructure needs, it is also true more financial relief will be needed in those areas. Needs identified when ND 2.0 held regional meetings to determine priorities in 14 communities were additional financial support for emergency services, lower interest rates on student loans, financial support for housing and day-care staff, increased support for the Children's Health Insurance Program. Adequate daycare is a necessity and funding for emergency services is critical in rural communities. The Bank of North Dakota had a $703 million profit in 2011, with 18 percent from student loans. Oil-tax revenue could top $3.5 billion this biennium. I believe consideration should be given to lowering student loan interest rates and making student loans available to veterans at a lower or zero percentage rate. Consideration should also be given to lowering or capping tuition rates.
O'Connell: 1) Lower taxes for our citizens. 2) Reduce the cost of higher education. 3) Take care of our seniors; after all, their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice helped to build the state and the surplus. 4) Concentrate on infrastructure needs such as water, sewer and roads.
Shattuck: Property-tax relief for North Dakota residents who are being forced from their lifelong homes. Infrastructure, water issues, law enforcement, affordable housing and emergency services should be a priority for North Dakota. The choices we make today will have a lasting impact on future generations. Along with that, inadequate and deteriorating roads built for less frequent traffic are falling into disrepair and consequently affect the pace of development and efficiency of our transportation system. Funding must be available to repair roads especially in the oil impact area as well as local subdivisions across the state.
Are there other issues facing your district that you would want to address in the Legislature?
O'Connell: Last year's flood had a substantial impact on the people of District 6. We need to get relief to those affected and those still feeling the effects. We need to find a way to help the ranchers get their pastures and hay lands back in production. Housing is still in short supply, which means rent has skyrocketed and affordable housing is unattainable for many. And we need to rein in taxes that have gotten out of control on recreational and agricultural land.
Shattuck: We need to enforce the current regulations set up by the Oil and Gas Division of state government and the Industrial Commission. We have disparities between our rural communities, rural education and our urban counterparts. We need to address the inadequacies in funding for my district. There should be a fund that the oil companies contribute to that covers the expense of clean up from a leak, spill of any kind that would contaminate the land. The coal mines do reclaim the land back to its natural state; oil drilling should do the same. We need to make sure oil companies frack or extract the oil in a correct and responsible way and make sure short cuts are not taken to cut costs. This would benefit the owner of the land as well as keeping North Dakota beautiful in its natural state.
Hunskor: As the oil industry expands, many small business owners are finding it increasingly difficult to attract dependable, qualified workers due to high-salaried jobs available in oil country. If allowed to escalate, small business owners may be forced to offer fewer services, shorter hours or close their doors. Such action will further hinder economic development in rural North Dakota. I do not know the answer to the work-force issue, but it is important for the upcoming legislative session to be involved in helping minimize an ever-growing problem.
Smith: I think District 6 will face many of the challenges our entire state is going to face in these coming years. North Dakota is touted as 'the envy of the nation' - which I truly believe we are. With that moniker comes attention - some of which is welcome while others are not. We, in North Dakota, know how to build our economy. We care about our environment. We care about our farms and ranches, and we care about our people. We are going to need to work hard to keep federal agencies and interest groups from pushing their regulations on us. Equally, we will need to advocate for our fair share of federal program funding. We are a growing and changing state. The character, perseverance and work ethic of our citizens needs to continue to shape this great state.
Anderson: I'm very concerned about the shortage of health-care providers in our rural area. The two health-care facilities in our area have difficulty recruiting physicians and licensed nurses. I think the new health-care bill will make the problem even more difficult to resolve. A labor shortage also exists in agricultural and many other small businesses. Farmers, implement dealers and grain elevators all need more help. The large number of coyotes and blackbirds cause a considerable loss of revenue for area ranchers and farmers. We need to reduce the number of these pests to have an effective outcome. The community of Deering has been promised a reliable supply of water for years and still is waiting. The completion of NAWS and development of water systems is essential for our district and state.
Hanson: With two of the three counties in the district being oil-producing counties, the issues related to this activity, along with tax relief and flood issues, are what the voters of District 6 have voiced the most concerns to me about. If anyone in District 6 has other concerns, I would be glad to listen to them.