Infrastructure bill signed Wednesday will spread oil money statewide

Gov. Doug Burgum signs House Bill 1066, or “Operation Prairie Dog,” on Wednesday, March 20, 2019, for infrastructure projects throughout North Dakota. North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger looks on, ready to certify the bill’s delivery. Lawmakers involved in the bill’s legislative process look on from behind, including Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, immediately behind Jaeger. Nathe introduced the bill.

A new law that will give $250 million to cities, counties and townships in non-oil producing counties for infrastructure needs, has a gift for Williston, too — the gift of time.

House Bill 1066, referred to as “Operation Prairie Dog,” removes the sunset for funding for Hub Cities like Dickinson, Minot and Williston. That will free up the area’s legislators and other elected officials to focus on other things, Williston Mayor Howard Klug said.

“We can spend a lot of time on something else now,” Klug told the Williston Herald on Wednesday, March 20.

Gov. Doug Burgum signed the bill at a ceremony Wednesday in Bismarck. That signing came about a week after the state Senate unanimously approved the bill and in February, the House OK’d it with an 80-12 vote.

The work on the bill started long before that. It took about two years of work to come up with a plan that the entire state would support.

“We sat down with Dickinson, Williston and Minot and we hammered out a plan where we’d be able to at least pay our debts,” Klug said.

That money will go toward paying for the infrastructure projects Williston and others put in place during the boom.

In addition to ensuring the state’s Hub Cities — cities most impacted by oil and gas production — get funding without having to fight for it at each legislative session, the bill also helps to pay for infrastructure statewide.

It creates three revenue buckets for communities outside of oil producing areas. It will set aside $115 million for cities, $115 million for counties and townships and $20 million for an airport infrastructure fund. That money has to be used for essential infrastructure projects such as road improvements, water systems or utility upgrades.

“One of the pillars of our Main Street Initiative is smart, efficient infrastructure, and we know communities across North Dakota have significant infrastructure needs,” Burgum said in a news release about the bill signing. “We also support local control, and this bill gives communities enormous latitude to use this bounty of oil tax revenues. If used wisely, these grant dollars represent a golden opportunity to improve the economics of cities, limit the growth of property taxes and create healthy, vibrant communities, enhancing the quality of life for all North Dakotans,” Burgum said.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, one of the bill’s main architects, spoke at the signing ceremony and echoed Burgum’s sentiment about what the bill will mean for North Dakota communities.

“People are going to say, ‘I want to live there,’” he said.

Klug said he hoped other communities would use the money wisely and invest in infrastructure projects that will make them stronger in the future.

“The rest of the state has an opportunity to reap what the Bakken has given us,” he said.

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