Dem legislators in western North Dakota repeat appeal for special session for roads

By Dale Wetzel, AP
Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ND Dem legislators want special session for roads

BISMARCK, N.D. — Gov. John Hoeven should call a special session of the Legislature to approve aid to local governments that are struggling with housing and road problems arising from western North Dakota’s oil boom, some Democratic lawmakers say.

The Republican governor has declined previous requests for a special session, and his spokesman, Don Canton, said he would not call one in response to the Democrats’ plea.

In a letter to Hoeven on Tuesday, the lawmakers argued that development problems could not wait for the start of the 2011 Legislature in January.

“The citizens of North Dakota, along with our oil-producing counties, are enjoying an economic boom unparalleled in our state’s history,” the letter says. “In return, our roads should not be swallowed up with Band-Aid approaches that fail to maintain them.”

It was signed by Sen. John Warner, D-Ryder, and Reps. Kenton Onstad of Parshall, Shirley Meyer of Dickinson and Tom Conklin of Douglas. All represent districts in western North Dakota. Onstad is the assistant Democratic leader in the North Dakota House.

Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the Republican majority leader, said some state agencies, including the Bank of North Dakota and the Housing Finance Agency, are able to help local governments handle oil-development problems until the Legislature begins its regular session.

“We have some good things (local governments) can access, and I believe that’s what we need to get us to the next session,” Carlson said.

Canton said the 2009 Legislature greatly increased road spending in western North Dakota’s oil counties and revamped a formula for distributing the money.

“That has to be given time to work,” Canton said.

The directors of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties declined last week to endorse the appeal for a special session, because they have not had time to prepare an agenda for it, Canton said. The association’s director, Vicky Steiner, did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said earlier this month he believes the Legislature should call a special session to deal with the problems of North Dakota’s oil region. Hoeven said at the time a session was unnecessary.

The Democratic lawmakers’ letter suggests increasing state road and bridge aid to oil-producing counties. Meyer, in an interview, said a special session could also review ways to ease a regional housing shortage, including financial help for builders.

“Housing is nonexistent in Williston, Killdeer. We have guys on the rigs that are living in their pickups right now,” Meyer said. “It’s something that we don’t feel that we can wait six months to address.”

Meyer said a special session should be limited to oil development issues, although the Legislature could take up any issue lawmakers chose. A special session also would not be subject to the state constitution’s 80-day limit on legislative meetings every two years.

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