Lawmakers Address Millions of Dollars School Funds Haven’t Received

Millions of dollars collected through the state’s oil extraction tax didn’t go to schools across North Dakota. Now, lawmakers are trying to figure out how to fix that. Our Malique Rankin explains how this is a problem that has NOT been resolved for about a decade.

Senator Dwight Cook: “It’d be somewhere over 200 million.. just going through and trying to figure out what that number is, is going to be very difficult.”

That’s about how much oil extraction tax money lawmakers estimate did not go to the common schools trust fund and the foundation aid stabilization fund. These two funds provide money for public schools across the state. Schools have managed without by taking money from the general fund– which isn’t ideal. It’s an issue that has been on the state’s radar for a while.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt: “We have documentation of where this discussion began prior to, I believe it was March of 2009.”

In the 10 years since the tax misallocation was first realized, lawmakers killed a bill that contained an amendment to correct it.

Legislators say this session, they will correct the language of the bill to clarify where all oil extraction tax money goes. But the question remains: Will they pay back the money that the common schools trust funds didn’t receive for the last 10 years.

Sen. Cook: “I’m not saying the money should not be retroactive, I’m saying I don’t think we should be forced to make it, that we have to fear a lawsuit. I think if we do it, it’s out of the kindness of our heart.”

A kindness Senator Cook wouldn’t extend.

Sen. Cook: “I would rather not myself, but I’m one vote.”

Cook says this was a mistake in language, and it should not fall on the state when no one caught it sooner. All testimonies in favor of the bill disagreed with Senator Cook, stating the state should reimburse those millions of dollars.

Lawmakers say this bill will be in committee for the next few days, and we can expect to see it on the Senate floor next week. The ND State Land Commissioner said if this money isn’t reimbursed, it will have heavy implications on the board, forcing them to potentially pursue litigation.
 

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