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Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Williston, urges lawmakers Tuesday, Feb. 14, to vote yes on HB 1366, a bill known as the "hub cities bill" that would fund infrastructure spending primarily in western North Dakota. Tom Stromme/Bismarck Tribune

Legislators delay action on funding for oil cities

BISMARCK – A bill to provide funding for western North Dakota communities failed in the state House Tuesday, Feb. 14, but lawmakers said they plan to address funding for the oil-impacted areas in the second half of the legislative session.

House Bill 1366, which relates to the way oil tax revenue is distributed to cities, counties and schools in the Bakken, failed with a 37-54 vote.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, urged lawmakers to vote no to the bill, emphasizing that it would be better to address funding for oil-impacted areas after the March revenue forecast is released.

“A no vote doesn’t mean you’re against the west,” Carlson said.

Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Williston, the primary sponsor of the bill, said communities in the Bakken rely on oil tax revenue to pay for expanded law enforcement facilities, new water plants and other infrastructure they added to meet unprecedented growth spurred by oil development.

Officials from so-called Bakken hub cities of Dickinson, Williston and Minot, as well as smaller communities in the Oil Patch, testified during a hearing on the bill that the funding is essential so they can continue making debt payments.

Initially the bill had a $33.5 million fiscal impact to keep the communities receiving the same amount of funding they received last biennium. The bill was amended to have a $7.65 million fiscal impact.

In addition, the bill includes funding for airports in Williston and Dickinson and other oil impact grant funding that was approved during the last session but has not yet been delivered due to budget shortfalls.

Several legislators from western North Dakota spoke in favor of the bill.

“Many people feel that things are dead or dying in western North Dakota, but it couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Rep. Denton Zubke, R-Watford City.

Carlson and other legislators said they’ll discuss funding for western North Dakota again in a different budget after they have an updated picture of the revenue forecast.

“It does not need to be decided today. It needs to be decided in the second half,” Carlson said.

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