Monday, March 30, 2015

ND Counties Urge Senate to Amend GPT formula bill

Cass County Engineer Jason Benson and NDACo Executive Director Mark Johnson testify on HB 1176 the Gross Production Tax Formula bill which icreases the share of oil taxes staying in producing areas. This provides a long-term benefit for infrastructure in the patch. The bill also includes $112 million for non-oil counties. Counties are unified in their support for the bill but did request further amendments. NDACo is asking for the distribution to be based on "needs" and for more flexiblity in terms of the criteria in how the dollars can be used.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Road Funding Criteria Forces Counties to Re-Prioritize Projects

The passage of the “Surge” funding bill is a demonstration of the wisdom of the 64th Legislative Assembly to create an outstanding investment in the future of western North Dakota and the entire state. But SB 2103’s $1.1 billion has several “strings” attached. Set forth in the bill is a list of criteria for use of the funding. The restrictions apply only to counties. While North Dakota counties are grateful for the one-time funding, they are concerned with the restrictions on how the “Surge” dollars can be used.

DOT Meeting with Counties on SB 2103
The Department of Transportation has responded quickly to the finalization of SB 2103. They have organized and held four regional meetings around the state in the last few weeks to provide an overview of the criteria for use of the funds provided through that piece of legislation. There has been overwhelming response by the counties at these meetings who have showed up with shovel-ready projects. Each county presents their project(s) to DOT officials and fellow county officials. The group then gives each project a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down.” Here is a list of the criteria county road projects must meet:
Walsh County presents projects for consideration at DOT meeting
-         Roadways and bridges must provide continuity and connectivity to efficiently integrate and improve major paved and unpaved corridors within the county and across county borders.
-         Projects must be consistent with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute’s estimated road and bridge investment needs for the years 2015 to 2034 and other planning studies.
-         Upon completion of a major roadway construction or reconstruction project, the roadway must be posted at a legal load limit of 105,500 pounds.
-         Design speed on the roadway must be at least 55 miles per hour, unless the DOT provides an exemption.
-         Bridges must be designed to meet an HL 93 loading.
Probably the restriction that is most discouraging to county folks is that roads must provide connectivity and continuity.  Several county engineers and county commissioners say this will prevent them from tackling their highest priority roads because they do not meet the strict interpretation of SB 2103.

Greater Flexibility Needed in Future Transportation Funding
Counties will be asking for greater flexibility as the discussion turns to the next major road funding bill, HB 1176. The bill includes a formula change for the Gross Production Tax and $112 million for non-oil counties. As it stands currently, HB 1176 includes identical language in regards to the criteria for use of funds. Unless it is amended, counties will experience the same degree of limitation.
“In the interest of balance, we would prefer HB 1176 to go out to counties with fewer restrictions. This would give counties greater flexibility to address the needs as identified by the local people,” says North Dakota Association of Counties Executive Director Mark Johnson. “Without this correction, the use of this tremendous resource will be dictated and only to the counties. Counties will be completing projects that may be further down on their priority list because of the funding restrictions.”    
HB 1176 will be heard March 30th in the Senate Appropriations Committee. NDACo will be advising committee members on the importance of allowing counties greater flexibility with the road funding.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

NDACo Week 12 Legislative Report

The floor sessions continue to increase in length, as the policy committees are rapidly wrapping up their work.  Several committees are done, or all but done, with their deliberations and await conference committee assignments.  The sense of many seasoned legislators however, is that there are fewer policy issues for conference and the focus will be all on appropriations very shortly.

As reported earlier, this week included an excellent showing of county officials in opposition to the “mills to cents” bill (HB1005).  Likewise, the County Recorders appeared in great strength to oppose a study effort to examine a “flat rate” recording fee structure.  We are very hopeful on both of these issues.

The poorly defined shift of property taxes for “agritourism” buildings (SB2339) made it to the House floor on Thursday with a Do Not Pass recommendation, but the debate about the Sanford health insurance contract for NDPERS took too long and left it as the first item for debate on Friday.  County officials have done a great job of communicating the problems with this proposal – but don’t stop.  It will be probably debated at 12:35 tomorrow – tune in on the web for the action.

As you will see below, next week will have very few formal hearings, and most of those are Appropriations “rehearings” of policy bills that have money attached.  One first hearing however is of critical importance to all counties.  HB1176 proposes an adjustment to the Gross Production Tax distribution formula for oil counties and includes $112 million for non-oil counties.  The message we hope to communicate is that the restrictions placed on the “Surge” funding resulted in some very important county projections becoming ineligible, and we don’t want to see those extreme limitations on the HB1176 funding.

In the property tax area, the House killed the “assessor training” bill (SB2054) although it was greatly amended when it reached the floor.  The bill would have allowed township assessors to continue with 24 hours of training (rather than 180) but it gave county commissions the ability to assume local assessing in a township where it was being done improperly. 

The Governor’s Property Tax Reform bill (SB2144) came out of the House Committee with a strong Do Pass recommendation this week, and will likely be on the floor next week. 

On the election front, the proposal to reduce the availability of absentee and mail ballots to 21 (rather than 40) days was given a Do Not Pass recommendation by the Senate GVA committee today. 

A new, optional authority for county boards (by commission resolution) to borrow up to $500,000 for up to 5 years without going to a citizen vote (HB1194) was given a Do Pass recommendation in the Senate.

As all bills with more than a $5,000 budget impact must be out of policy committees by next Monday, look for some important committee action on property tax relief, county social service funding, senior mill match, and others early next week.

Take a look, don’t hesitate to email questions, keep in contact with our legislators and stay tuned, we may need some immediate support.
Time Bill Number Description Committee Room
Monday 3/30    
8:30 HB 1081 J Dedicated turkey license for sick youth  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
9:00 HB 1158R **** Remove game and fish license from auditors  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
9:30 HCR 3004 J Study best practices for forensic death investigation  Senate Human Ser. Red River 
10:00HB 1176 A **** GPT formula change - hub city, non-oil county funding   Senate Approp.  Harvest 
11:00 HB 1409 X * Increases outdoor heritage fund to $40 million per biennium, refines purposes  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
Tuesday 3/31    
9:15 HB 1372 L 100K for finding agent orange victims  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
10:00 HB 1359 S DHS to review rates for basic care facilities  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
Wednesday 4/1    
8:30 HB 1046 S Appropriation for traumatic brain injury registry  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
9:00 HB 1223 C Major reduction of income tax rates  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
9:30 HB 1059 B ** Extends state-paid property tax relief to in-lieu payments by utilities  Senate Approp.  Harvest 
Thursday 4/2    
9:00 HCR 3028 J Study creating, funding emergency response centers in rural areas  Senate Pol. Subs. Red River 
9:45 HCR 3039 R * Study software needs of cities and counties to get property tax info online  Senate Pol. Subs. Red River 
Friday 4/3    
9:00 HB 1217 J Can't evict renter solely because they are violence victim Senate Pol. Subs. Red River 

Monday, March 23, 2015

County Auditors Oppose "Mills to Cents" bill

Grand Forks County Finance Director Debbie Nelson testifies before Senate Finance & Tax committee
Auditors, Treasurers & County Commissioner attend "Mills to Cents" hearing
Auditors from across the state filled the room to show opposition to HB 1055 Monday during the hearing before the Senate Finance and Tax committee.  The bill attempts to clarify for tax payers how taxes are calculated by using cents per dollar and percentages of value rather than mill levies applied to taxable valuation. Auditors are say this will be a costly, intensive process and they are not convinced this will accomplish what the bill sets out to do.
Grand Forks Auditor Debbie Nelson pointed out one of the 15 errors auditors and NDACo have identified in the bill. Auditor Linda Svihovec told  legislators about the several changes recently implemented or in the works like the uniform tax statement and the Governor's Property Tax Reform plan. Svihovec said those improvements to the tax system need time work.
The Senate Finance & Tax committee did not take action on the bill Monday.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

NDACo Week 11 Legislative Report

The big news of the week, of course, was the release of the official state revenue projections.  This information sets the boundaries for overall spending and allows the Legislature to now finish their work. It was helpful for the Legislature that the projections did not contain huge deviations from the preliminary numbers that were prepared in January. 

The projections do however suggest a $419 million reduction in State General Fund revenues from what the Governor budgeted, or about a 7% drop.  The biggest dollar amount decrease is in sales tax collections.  This will also affect State Aid Distribution Fund allocations to counties if the projections are realized.  The good news is that they are still projecting growth in sales taxes over the current biennium – so it is a reduction in the growth, not a true decrease.

The big impact is obviously to all the special funds that receive oil tax revenues.  Overall, oil taxes are expected to drop from $5.9 billion this biennium to $3.9 billion in the coming one.  As an example, the Strategic Infrastructure and Investment Fund (SIIF) – where all one-time road funds come from – received $1.2 billion this biennium, and is expected to get $205 million in the next.  Unless oil activity recovers, one-time funding two years from now will become very challenging.

On another topic, an excellent hearing on SB2206 (Social Service Funding Shift) was held this Wednesday and the concept seemed to have fairly broad acceptance within the House Human Service Committee.  However, we don’t like to leave anything to chance, so if your county has a member on that committee, it would be very helpful to shoot them a note of support.  (you can who they are and find their email address at this link )

We feel the Governor’s Property  Tax Reform proposal (SB2144) had an excellent hearing on Tuesday, and this was followed by solid county testimony against the broad and undefined expansion of the “farm building” tax exemption to “agritourism” that was proposed as SB2339.

All remaining “policy bill” hearings will take place next week, and then the focus shifts to conference committees and appropriations.  So far we have few policy bills headed for conference, so our focus will be on the road funding in HB1176 & HB1012, the Human Service, DOCR, and Health Dept. Budgets (SB2012, HB1015 & HB1004) and the social service funding shift of SB2206.  
Monday 3/23  
9:00SB 2219J Creates a statewide human trafficking commission House Judiciary Prairie 
9:00SB 2279E Employer may not discriminate on sexual orientation House Human Services Fort Union 
9:00HB 1055B *** Replaces mills with cents per $1000 Senate Finance and Taxation Lewis and Clark 
9:00SB 2147H Reduces from 3 to 2 one-call locates for same project before charges occur House Industry, Business and Labor Peace Garden 
9:00HB 1328J Drone Bill - use limitations Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
9:30HB 1368J Domestic violence treatment must follow standards Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
9:30HB 1116L Changes to birth records Senate Human Services Red River 
10:00HCR 3049S Study employment and public assistance Senate IB&LRoosevelt Park 
10:00HB 1455L Creation of nursing staff services Senate Human Services Red River 
10:00HB 1394J Lower penalties for marijuana Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
10:30SB 2320S Medication therapy management program for Medicaid recipients House Approp. - Hum.Res. Div.Sakakawea 
10:30HCR 3037L Study homemade food sales and local public health policies Senate Human Services Red River 
11:00HB 1403J Sick leave allowed for domestic violence Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
2:00SB 2012A **** Human Services budget, enhanced county reimbursement for expanded Medicaid House Approp. - Hum.Res. Div.Sakakawea 
Tuesday 3/24  
9:00SCR 4005S Study behavioral health and juvenile proceedings House Judiciary Prairie 
9:30SCR 4017J Urge Congress to pass anti-trafficking legislation House Judiciary Prairie 
10:00HCR 3052J Study higher ed policies regarding sexual assault Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
10:30HB 1467J US Border Patrol has arrest power Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
11:00HCR 3012J Study child sex offender registration Senate Judiciary Fort Lincoln 
2:30SB 2012A **** Human Services budget, enhanced county reimbursement for expanded Medicaid House Approp. - Hum.Res. Div.Sakakawea 
Wednesday 3/25  
9:30HB 1035L Interim study of Health care in ND Senate Human Services Red River 
10:00HB 1378L Study of essential health delivery Senate Human Services Red River 
10:00SB 2270J Repeals limits on bail bondsman commissions House Judiciary Prairie 
10:30HCR 3005L Study care of individuals with brain injuries Senate Human Services Red River 
11:00SB 2182J States attorney or AG to prosecute unlawful practices of transient merchants House Judiciary Prairie 
2:30HB 1020A ** Extension Budget includes UGPTI budget, local road study funding added in House Senate Appropriations Harvest 
Thursday 3/26  
8:30HCR 3020B Study impact on owners from land inundated by rising Devils Lake waters Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln 
9:00HB 1194R * Political subs may borrow up to $500,000 for five years with no vote Senate Political Subdivisions Red River 
9:00SB 2141R * Study county recorder fees House GVAFort Union 
9:00SB 2222R Open records requests by legislators are themselves open records House GVAFort Union 
9:00HB 1456Z Land board to buy excess Corps land Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln 
9:00SB 2299V Regulates campaign donation pass-thru House GVAFort Union 
9:00HB 1395J * Study of emergency information database - Smart911 Senate Transportation Lewis and Clark 
9:00SCR 4002R Study various definitions of political subdivision House Political Subdivisions Prairie 
9:30HB 1285C Commerce appropriation for domestic violence shelter grants Senate Appropriations Harvest 
10:00SCR 4019E Study state funding of health insurance for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel House Political Subdivisions Prairie 
10:00HB 1459B Voters must authorize building authority construction project Senate Political Subdivisions Red River 
10:15HB 1246E State employee compensation studies must count 50% of benefits Senate GVAMissouri River 
10:30HB 1068Z Industrial commission cannot use information outside of its Jurisdiction Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln 
2:15HB 1352B Elimination of specials for irrigation from Garrison diversion Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln 
2:30SB 2346E Changes VSO training certification requirements House GVAFort Union 
4:00HB 1113Z C Felony for radioactive disposal non-compliance and new rules Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln 
Friday 3/17  
8:30SB 2022E * NDPERS budget, retirement and health plan House Approp. - Gov. Ops Div.Medora 
9:00HB 1415A * $60 million plus $60 million for Fargo flood protection Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln 
9:00HB 1444E State employment contract provisionsSenate Political Subdivisions Red River 
9:15HCR 3006J Study use of state resources for youth adjudicated by tribal courts Senate GVAMissouri River 
9:30HB 1213E * Appointee to local board cannot be felon (15 year look back), tax delinquency amended out Senate Political Subdivisions Red River 
10:15HCR 3057V Study election administration  Senate GVAMissouri River 
11:00HB 1114Z New penalties for solid waste disposal Senate Energy & Nat. Res.Fort Lincoln