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Republicans, Democrats put forth competing bills for infrastructure money
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After the first week of the 2021-22 Legislative Session, it seems that both Republicans and Democrats agree on the need for a major bonding program, but not on exactly how big it should be.

There are dueling proposals for a bonding program that would use money from the state’s Legacy Fund to pay for infrastructure projects, among other things. On Wednesday, Jan. 6, State Senate Majority Leader Rick Wardner, R-Dickinson, announced a $1.1 billion plan.

The program, which would be funded by Legacy Fund earnings and managed by the Bank of North Dakota, includes funding for water projects, a carbon capture project, an ag development center, and the State Hospital, in addition to infrastructure dollars for counties and cities.

“These are projects the state has committed to funding. Interest rates for bonding are at an all-time low while construction inflation is high, so these projects will cost more in the future if we delay them,” Wardner said. “Using Legacy Fund earnings now to move these projects toward completion will help jump start the economy and keep jobs in North Dakota while saving money in the long run.”

A consistent stream of funds from the Legacy Fund would flow into the Bank of North Dakota for designated projects. BND will hold the bonds, which will then be available to various agencies to access for approved projects. The proposal includes a $170.9 million “gap” bond to cover city and county infrastructure projects that would have been funded by oil and gas tax revenue, but due to the downturn in the oil industry will not have sufficient funds.

“This is one-time funding that invests Legacy Fund earnings right here in North Dakota. It creates jobs now and in the future through career and technical training while also taking pressure off of property taxes, which is crucial to helping our communities through this pandemic and economic downturn,“ said the bill’s prime sponsor Representative Todd Porter, R-Mandan. “There is no burden on the taxpayer with this proposal. The bonds are wholly funded by Legacy Fund earnings, which are taken as a percent of market value. The principal will not be touched.”

Wardner said the money would be used to make the state more prosperous.

“There are needs throughout the state for roads, bridges, flood, and water infrastructure. The carbon capture and ag research projects support our largest industries and will support continued development that will in turn bring revenue back to the state,” he said.

Meanwhile, a plan from Democratic-NPL lawmakers was announced Thursday, Jan. 7 and would set aside $2 billion for bonds.

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, and Democratic Leaders Sen. Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, and Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, have introduced legislation to create an infrastructure bonding program during the 2021-2023 biennium.

Senate Bill 2040 authorizes the Public Financing Agency to issue up to $2 billion in infrastructure bonds.

The bonds have a term of 25 years and would be issued at market rates. Bonds would be repaid using Legacy Fund dollars or Bank of North Dakota proceeds transferred to the general fund at the end of each biennium. Approximately $209 million would be needed each biennium to service the debt on the bonds. The bill is also sponsored by Senator Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, Reps. Gretchen Dobervich, D-Fargo, and Alisa Mitskog, D-Wahpeton.

“Infrastructure needs in North Dakota are growing,” says lead sponsor Sen. Tim Mathern (D-Fargo). “The Legislature took a first step in adopting the Prairie Dog bill last session, more needs to be done. Oil and gas revenues meant to support these projects have dropped considerably due to COVID-19, meaning no funds will be available during the current biennium.”

SB 2040 allocates proceeds from the bonds to four distinct project areas: municipal, county and township infrastructure school construction, affordable housing and road and bridge construction.

“We aren’t reinventing the wheel with this bill,” said Sen. Mathern. “It is specifically designed to take advantage of existing programs and authorities. This bill will provide good paying jobs in communities across the state. It will ensure we invest Legacy Fund earnings in North Dakota where it belongs. And it will alleviate pressure on appropriators so we can invest in North Dakota for North Dakotans by funding childcare, public health, and education.”

First community rapid COVID-19 testing held in Williston
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Williston offered its first community rapid-testing event for COVID-19 on Monday, Jan. 11 at the former Sloulin Airport.

City Administrator David Tuan said this will be the first of many rapid test events, with testing transitioning into the hangar itself for next week’s event.

Tuan said the city received around 500 tests for this event, and that by halfway through the event, about 100 people had been tested. This week’s testing was done with volunteer assistance, but Tuan said future tests will be able to be done by individuals themselves.

Tuan added that he believed around 2 million tests had been delivered to the state, with more to come, so people don’t worry if they miss out on one testing event. Additionally, a weekly drive-thru COVID-19 testing event will still be held Mondays at Williston State College.

The rapid testing, using the BinaxNOW Rapid Antigen screening, was put on through a partnership from Williams County/Williston Emergency Management, the Upper Missouri District Health Unit and the state. The drive-thru testing event was open to the general public aged 18 and older who are asymptomatic, meaning showing no signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Tests were self-administered with the assistance of the Williston Fire Department, Williston Police Department and other City of Williston and Williams County staff. Once tested, individuals received their results via text message in around 15 minutes.

To learn what to expect with the BinaxNOW test, watch: https://youtu.be/iVoNhZY5TI8. Learn more about the North Dakota Rapid Antigen Test Program at https://www.health.nd.gov/rapid-antigen-screening.

James Memorial encourages awareness by asking artists to Put a Mask On It

The James Memorial Art Center is putting a call out for artists for a new exhibition, bringing a little awareness of — and poking some fun at — the current state of affairs.

The exhibition is open to the public and to artists of all ages and skill, with any 2D or 3D medium. There’s only one requirement, and it’s right in the show’s title: Put a Mask On It.

“We are living in a society where masks have become an important part of our daily lives,” said James Board Vice President Deana Novak. “What better way to encourage others to continue to be safe than to use art and have some fun with it!”

The premise is simple: paint a tree, a cow, a building, anything you wish...then put a mask on it. The subject can be wearing a mask, the painting can be of a mask, or even the mask itself can be the canvas. Novak said the possibilities are endless. And while thoughts obviously turn to the masks that have arisen due to the pandemic, Novak said one doesn’t need to limit themselves to that idea. Just simply put a mask on it. Best of all, there will be prizes awarded for the most creative entry for both youth and adult submissions.

Pieces must be dropped off at the James during the last week of January during regular office hours. If pieces are mailed, they must be at the James no later than Jan. 29. Artists may submit up to three pieces.

This exhibit will run from February 1 to 26 in Gallery II. Artwork must be picked up March 1 to 5.

The James Memorial Art Center is located at 621 First Avenue West in Williston. Gallery hours are Monday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday 1 p.m.to 5 p.m. For further information, please contact the James at 701-774-3601.

ND's senators praise new carbon capture tax credit rules
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North Dakota’s U.S. Senators are both praising new rules from the IRS for the 45Q carbon capture tax credit.

The credits are designed to encourage businesses to capture and dispose of carbon oxide emissions, as well as to use them in recovering oil and natural gas. Originally passed in 2008, the credit was recently extended.

The new rules were announced Wednesday, Jan. 6.

“These final regulations provide taxpayers and the American energy sector with needed clarity on utilizing the section 45Q credit,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in an announcement. “These regulations are an essential step toward harnessing the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans to further modernize the American energy sector, while ensuring American energy producers maintain their competitive edge around the world.”

Sens. John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer both issued statements Monday, Jan. 11, praising the new rules.

“We’ve been working to put the 45Q tax credit in place to help our coal producers,” Hoeven said in a statement. “We have now secured the final regulations from Treasury, and passed legislation extending the construction deadline to provide producers with more time to utilize the credit. The 45Q tax credit is an essential revenue stream for our nation’s coal facilities, as well as oil producers and manufacturers, supporting good jobs in North Dakota and benefitting every home and business through a more resilient and reliable electricity grid. At the same time, this tax credit is an important part of our efforts to support the development of CCUS technologies, like Project Tundra, enabling our nation to continue utilizing its abundant coal reserves while also reducing emissions. That’s a win for our economy, environmental stewardship and America’s energy security.”

Last week, Treasury announced the final 45Q rule, which includes two provisions that Hoeven worked to secure to benefit coal facilities, enhanced oil and gas recovery (EOR) operations and project developers in North Dakota. Specifically, the rule includes a more flexible definition of Carbon Capture Equipment (CCE), providing broader eligibility for the tax credit. In addition, the rule includes a provision similar to Hoeven’s CO2 Regulatory Certainty Act, ensuring that the tax credit works both for long-term storage and enhanced oil recovery.

“Carbon capture is the future of reliable, low emissions energy, and North Dakota is a national leader in the development and use of this technology,” Cramer said. “With the administration’s long-awaited guidance finalized, investors can now take advantage of the carbon capture tax credit with confidence and clarity.”

The 45Q CCUS tax credit was extended and expanded as part of the FUTURE Act (Furthering carbon capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground storage, and Reduced Emissions Act) in 2018, a bill to incentivize the creation of innovative technology to capture, store, and utilize carbon.

The final regulations allow smaller carbon capture facilities to be aggregated into one project for purposes of claiming the credit when certain factors are present, such as common ownership and location; as well as provide guidance on recapture, including introducing a recapture period of 3-years. Under these rules, credits must be repaid if previously sequestered carbon oxide leaks into the atmosphere during a three-year period after the initial storage or injection.

Auditions beginning for High School Musical Jr.
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Fort Peck Summer Theatre is currently casting the summer 2021 production of High School Musical, Jr.

Roles available for actors entering 7th grade and above. There is no maximum age restriction, but all roles available are as believable high school students.

The stars of tomorrow will take to the stage in this special event, as a host of young talent from Northeast Montana and beyond star in this modern Disney hit, High School Musical, Jr. The stakes are sky-high in the school’s annual musical, as the Jocks, Brainiacs, Cheerleaders and Thespians navigate teenage competition, love, homework and rising above the ‘status quo’… all while learning to sing and dance!

High School Musical, Jr is part of the diverse 2021 FPST season, along with Dames at Sea, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, The Spitfire Grill, Baskerville, Terms of Endearment, Ed Asner in God Help Us and the touring production of Around the World in 80 Days…or 37 Minutes!

For virtual audition information and directions, please visit www.fortpecktheatre.org/auditions