Gov. Doug Burgum recently unveiled a $15 billion budget for the next biennium, a proposal that includes a $1.25 billion bonding package that would help fund statewide infrastructure projects.
The budget in its entirety is important, obviously, but let’s focus on the proposed bonding package. Burgum’s budget will be scrutinized by lawmakers when the legislative session begins on Jan. 5, and is certain to undergo changes before it’s approved. Republican and Democrat lawmakers have both said they will introduce their own bonding proposals when lawmakers convene in Bismarck.
A similar discussion took place at the 2019 legislative session around creating a low-interest loan fund that counties, cities, and other political subdivisions could use to fund large infrastructure projects. Ultimately, lawmakers rejected the proposal in 2019. Collectively, we knew the issue would be back for discussion in the 2021 session.
That time is here, and we’re hopeful for more positive results this time. Creating a low interest loan fund would save communities like Minot millions of dollars in interest payments on major projects like the Mouse River Enhanced Flood Control Project. We’re certainly not the only community or political subdivision in North Dakota with infrastructure needs. There are countless potential projects to replace or repair roads, bridges, water towers, and other infrastructure that would benefit greatly from some sort of low interest loan program.
There will be much discussion, of course, regarding the details of any such program. The governor’s proposal would use earnings from the Legacy Fund, which currently sits at approximately $7.3 billion, to create low interest loan funds for political subdivisions for critical infrastructure projects.
Republican Sen. Majority Leader Rich Wardner has indicated that a similar bill will be introduced during the Legislature, and Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman said Democrats will introduce a $1 billion infrastructure bonding bill using earnings from the state’s oil tax account.
Minot leaders will be following the discussion when this topic is considered by lawmakers. We are in the midst of our city’s largest infrastructure project ever – flood control – and simultaneously working to complete the Northwest Area Water Supply project that will benefit many communities in the Minot area.
These two projects are vital to providing flood protection for Minot residents and the region as well as clean water to thousands of residents in northwest North Dakota. Flood control will protect residents living in four counties and 12 cities throughout the Souris River Valley. The project is under construction through the heart of Minot, and subsequent phases are under design. The NAWS project will create a clean, reliable source of water for nearly 90,000 people in north central North Dakota. As part of NAWS, the Minot Water Treatment Plant is undergoing a major expansion to help accommodate the water that will soon be coming from Lake Sakakawea, and a biota treatment facility near Max is in the design phase.
The local cost share of those two projects alone has been estimated at more than $350 million over perhaps the next decade. The bill that was rejected in 2019 would have saved taxpayers as much as $100 million in long-term financing and administrative fees. Think about that for a moment: $100 million that would not have to be raised through property taxes or sales tax. That’s a real and significant impact on residents in communities all across North Dakota. That’s why getting some version of a low interest loan fund passed through the 2021 Legislature is so important to Minot and other communities.
Under such a program, North Dakota political subdivisions, including cities like Minot, could borrow funds at low interest rates with a longer term of repayment from the state for water, road, and bridge infrastructure projects. The plan would use interest generated from the state’s $7.3 billion Legacy Fund to pay back investors who purchase bonds.
Using earnings from the Legacy Fund to invest in ourselves is a solution that will benefit thousands of North Dakota residents for decades to come. Using our own money to fund vital infrastructure projects would be a wise decision, and we look forward to working with our local elected lawmakers to iron out the details of such a program. The financial ramifications are vital to the future of North Dakota.
Sincerely, City Hall.
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