Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials

10/23/2014 9:17 AM

10/23/2014 9:17 AM

The Williston Herald, Williston, Oct. 18, 2014

Time to act on diversifying economy

Let this week be a wake-up call for Williston and the rest of the oil patch.

On Wednesday, oil prices plummeted to break-even levels and rattled the always-optimistic Lynn Helms into admitting drilling could slow in the Bakken's smaller counties.

Prices went from $90 a barrel in June, to $66.25 a barrel in one market. The pressure on the industry is going to get tighter as drilling becomes more expensive.

But this isn't a time for panic over a bust. The break-even point for North Dakota's top-producing counties of Williams and McKenzie is still $28. Instead, this should jolt some life into the folks in city and state offices.

If last week was a time to think about diversifying the economy, this week is the time to start making progress.

Currently, more than 65 percent of Williston's employment falls under the oil and gas industry umbrella. If prices hang low or continue to fall, the city can expect — as Helms described — fewer crowded hotels and restaurants and cheaper housing as the first warning signs. For quality of life reasons, that sounds nice, but we'd prefer to have it as the result of more growth — not a decline.

And, the fact is, the oil market is potentially volatile in domestic and foreign markets, an ugly future for an economy so dependent on one industry, and still in the infancy of post-boom sustainability.

This week, the biggest factor was Libya, which, in the midst of a civil war, put an additional 500,000 barrels of inexpensive oil on the global market, shaking the value of Bakken crude.

Other factors remain in play, as well.

OPEC, which for now seems to be working with American producers, could still flood the market with oil and create a steeper drop without a making a dent in Saudi Arabia's wealth and economy.

Stateside, the surge in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling — combined or not with these other factors — could drill producers into a self-inflicted price plummet. In Texas and North Dakota, things have been going smoothly, but a recently-discovered field in Oklahoma by Continental Resources, and increased boom activity in Gillette, Wyoming, could flood the U.S. market in the U.S.

It's possible that producers could frack their way into reshaping the economy of Williston.

We've seen this market type before, in the marking industry.

Farmers would chase a crop fetching higher prices, only to see it drop when the market was flooded. Harvesting oil and gauging its market is a lot more like farming than it may seem. They are both dependent on supply and demand. It isn't as simple as planting a new seed or adjusting a fertilizer mixture to create a product.

The same goes for bringing in a diverse economy and new industries. It takes years and patience, and even a little luck for that demand for the product will still be there once it has matured.

Good leaders in Williston will use oil money on infrastructure projects that will benefit both the energy industry and the agriculture industry, while working to bring in new, sustainable industries to capitalize on current oil production.

It is an overreaction to suggest oil prices will stay low and drilling rigs will start disappearing like they did in the 1980s. But, it's naïve for the city and county not to consider the possibility.

The recent dip in prices isn't the end of the Bakken, but it is a sharp reminder that creating a more diverse economy is a dire necessity.

That way, when prices and production eventually level off, Williston will still be a thriving city in western North Dakota, and not a ghost town of empty streets and boarded up windows again.

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The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Oct. 22, 2014

Rauschenberger gets nod for tax office

On Nov. 4, voters will decide who the next elected tax commissioner will be. Incumbent Ryan Rauschenberger and challenger Jason Astrup are both seeking to be elected to the position for the first time. Libertarian candidate Anthony Mangnall also is on the ballot.

Rauschenberger, who served as the deputy tax commissioner from July 2009 through December 2013, was appointed tax commissioner on Jan. 1. Before joining the tax department, Rauschenberger worked at the Department of Commerce. Prior to that, he was an associate accountant at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

Rauschenberger is a graduate of the University of North Dakota, with a degree in accounting and a master's degree in business administration.

Astrup owns Astrup Law Office in Fargo, specializing in business and tax law as well as real estate planning. He is a 2001 graduate of the University of Jamestown, earning a bachelor's degree in business administration, and a 2004 graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Law.

During his time in law school, Astrup spent time on Capitol Hill interning for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee.

All three candidates cite property tax relief as their highest priority. Although the tax commissioner can only propose legislation, the budget proposals and input are useful in crafting the executive budget and for lawmakers to consider during the legislative session.

The Astrup campaign maintains that Rauschenberger's recent unpaid leave of absence for substance abuse treatment is reason to vote him out of office. While Rauschenberger could have been more forthcoming about his condition at the onset, it does not preclude him from holding office if treatment is successful.

An important responsibility of the tax department will be providing accurate financial analysis of proposed legislation, in order to understand the fiscal impact. With the approaching legislative session, budget surplus and predictable number of requests, it will be a critical function of the department.

As the state's population increases, more tax returns will be filed and more oversight will be needed.

Being able to operate efficiently, implement new technologies and streamline systems will continue to be essential qualities the tax commissioner must possess.

Rauschenberger has demonstrated he is capable of effectively leading the state tax department in the future. He has a solid track record of performance since joining the department in 2009, has exhibited a willingness to adapt to change and will continue to serve the state well. We endorse Ryan Rauschenberger.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, Oct. 21, 2014

Vote 'no' on Measure 8

Measure 8 is another strange attempt to fix something that isn't broken.

In theory, moving the start of school back after Labor Day would make for longer summers. In reality, it doesn't work.

Let's look at it. Currently, most Minot schools end in the final week of May. Summer runs through June and July and schools open near the end of August. The result is students and teachers have close to three months off. If school were to start in the second week of September, classes would run until the second week of June. After close to three months off, classes would resume again. Nothing would change except a few weeks on the calendar.

There has been a lot of talk about the impact on athletic calendars, but we will not join that argument. From our viewpoint, this measure deserves to be defeated for one primary reason — the state has no place in telling Minot public schools how to form their school calendar.

For decades, Minot schools have followed a pretty traditional schedule, and as long as the local school board is making that decision, we are OK with that. The key is local control. In North Dakota, it is not unknown for rural districts to shut down for a week to let students out to help with harvest or maybe close down for a few days at the beginning of hunting season. Those decisions are made by local boards looking at local issues.

The state mandates every school have classes for approximately 175 days a year. We are OK with that. But letting local school districts decide when those days are is always the right choice.

In fact, if Minot schools decided next year to move to a year-round calendar with small breaks throughout the year and no long summer break, we could see the benefit of that. The key is letting local officials make decisions that impact local students and families.

Measure 8 would take that local control away. In Minot, Bottineau, Sawyer, Velva and other places in the region, we elect local school board members to decide when school should start and end and what days should be off in between those days. Those elected officials, and not the state, should decide what schedule best fits their community.

So we urge a "no" vote on Measure 8.

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