A special session now seems politically motivated

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Posted 7/19/16 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

Democrats have been calling for a special session to deal with money issues virtually every year since 2008. Every year, the plea went unheeded -- until now -- when the men in charge of managing the rise in revenue are on their way out the door.
If you go back to the editorials written by District 2 legislative candidates in 2008, you will see opinions by myself and others lamenting the fact that so much of the state’s oil money was being locked up for a “rainy day.” You’ll also find repeated references over the years, to the need for a special session.
Democrats have been hollering for years that local political subdvisions were getting soaked with oil impacts, and while the legislature repeatedly responded by raising the amount of funds local governments have received, it was a day late and a dollar short for the entire boom cycle. 
The process could have been a lot less painful for all if money had been available sooner and if such a large percentage of the state’s oil revenue was not tucked away in the first place.
Republican legislators orchestrated this when they put 2008’s Measure 2 on the table for voter approval -- which proposed locking up all but the first $100 million of oil revenue in a “Legacy Fund” unless 75 percent of legislators agreed to expend funds. 
The trouble then, and the trouble now, is that it is hard enough getting the funds local political subdivisions need in flush times, much harder when oil money is in decline.
What are the chances, do you suppose, that the special session called for next month could involve dipping into that reserve for the first time? While conventional wisdom says the state is more likely to access Bank of North Dakota profits or figure out where to make spending cuts, it’s hard not to consider whether it might be more appropriate to access the Legacy Fund.
Now comes a special session, under the direction of a lame duck governor -- and only a few months before an election in which the Republican establishment has already lost to an outsider -- Doug Burgum.
Republicans had the power to orchestrate the socking away of a huge treasure chest of oil money in 2008 -- and now that the boom has waned and with their power base in jeopardy, the Republican establishment is going to make sure the (mostly) men who have served so faithfully and for so long, have a say in potentially saddling a new governor and any new legislators with their vision for managing revenue decline.
Granted, what’s happened in the state of North Dakota over the past eight years in the way of rapid infrastructure advancement has been amazing. But Gov. Jack Dalrymple deserves no more credit for having accomplished things that absolutely had to happen than he does for putting dinosaurs on the prairie a million years ago.
Driving Williston’s U.S. 85 truck bypass on Sunday produces awe for both the quality of the project, how necessary it was and how nice it will be should oil activity ramp up again. 
At the same time, you can’t help looking back over the past eight years and all of the ways the lack of needed funds -- at the times they were desperately called for by our cities, counties and schools -- caused great hardship for all of our citizens. 
Look around Crosby and Tioga and you will see how oil money is laying the foundation for nicer streets and better sewer lines, benefitting the people who had to put up with all of the negatives of an oil boom.
Have Republicans finally seen fit to be proactive in how we manage oil funds?
Or does the fact such a session comes from a lame duck administration, involving an unknown number of people who may or may not be re-elected in November, scream “politically motivated” desperation? 
It’s almost as if the Republicans are the plain girl at the bar and they want to lock up a date before the lights come on.