“Well, Golly, Elmer – We’re Gonna Have To Hire A Fella From Minneapolis To Help Us Spend This Money!”

(NOTE:  For purposes of comedic affect, the author, Mitch Berg, is going to write most of this piece in an affected “North Dakota” accent.  The author notes in advance that the written patois actually sounds a lot more like a rural Oklahoma accent with overtones of rural Tennessee.  The author acknolwedges this, but notes that trying to write in an accent from the movie “Fargo” has little comedic affect, and is almost equally linguistically inaccurate, and begs your indulgence.  And now, on with the actual posting).

I been moved down here from North Dakota since nigh on 25 years now.  Back before I moved to the big city and all its temptations and lights, I didn’t know how to write so good.  Being from a rurl state and all, edumacation wasn’t our strong soot.

In fact, untel we got some people from the big city to come and tell us how to run our lifes. we was just a bunch of loosers who ain’t know how to do much but drive plows and drink beer.

Thanks to the people from the big city, I now know how to write dern gooder than I used to.

They done the same thing with gummint back in my home state.  Back before the big city folks came to North Dakota (or Nodak, as us all calls it), we ain’t known how to run a gummint as well as the folks in Minnesota.  Oh, we balanced our budgets for years, back when the budget been small and the state barely had a pot to whiz in.  But we were not as advanced as the people in Minnesota, who kept growing their budgets and battling over budget defecates, whatever they are.

Now, back in my home state they done found Awl.  Big Awl.  Lots of awl.  The whole western half of the state is like Saudi Arabia now.  Awl is everywhere.  And all these big-city folks, like Minnesota Public Radio, have been trying to tell the folks back home what a bad deal that is, how having money and stuff is making the state all miserable – which I kinda thought been funny, since I’m old enough to remember the eighties, when farming fell into the same kind of depression that housing is in now, and a good chunk of the state’s farms got foreclosed on and you could buy entire little towns for the price of the paperwork it took to print the deed.

Anyway, awl’s done changed all that.  And that means there’s a lot of money plumb coming in to the state’s coffins.

And shore nuff, a big city guy, Dave Mindeman from MnpAct, is telling all them hicks what’s best for ’em:

North Dakota is getting a little bit cocky.

There is a movement going on in the frozen tundra to put the elimination of property taxes on the ballot in 2012. Can you imagine? No property tax statements. Nothing.

Cocky?  That word ain’t never describe my kin back home.  “Passive Aggressive” is the one I hear more often, but I have no idea what that means, because none of us are smart enough to know what them words means.

Anyway, Mindeman has a word or two fer us hayseeds:

Now, granted, North Dakota can afford to do this. We all know about the oil boom going on in the western part of the state. Oil revenue taxation is a major windfall. So, the money lost on eliminating property taxes can probably be recovered.

Provided we all isn’t too stupid!

But I digest.

But that’s not the problem.

Cities and counties utilize property taxes for a very specific pupose (sic). Local services. Let’s say this all comes to pass. The local city councils and county boards have no assessed income from the property valuations. What happens?

Well, the state legislature would have to appropriate it. A kind of massive LGA if you will. Cities and counties would have to compete for state dollars…..a kind of massive “pick me…pick me” distribution.

Which is sort of what LGA has become in Minnesota.

Budget calculations would be in reverse mode. Instead of taking the base line of assessments and then deriving priority needs based on what you can collect, city and county governments would estimate what is needed and then lobby the state to get it.

All that’s true.

But since Mindeman brought up LGA (pardon me as I momentarily abandon the patois of my native land and get to some writing here), let’s take a look at some history.

A little over forty years ago, Minnesota noticed that there were, to paraphrase John Edwards, “Two Minnesotas” – an outstate Minnesota that was aging rapidly, was tied to agriculture (which is intensely cyclical) and mining (which wasn’t, but was also falling off rapidly as the US steel industry obsoleted itself), and the Metro area, which was young, highly educated, growing rapidly, and making a lot of money.  There was a significant disparity of wealth in the state.  The powers that be at the time decided it’d be useful to take some state revenue from the wealthy parts of the state and use it to help the poorer parts – at the time rural and outstate – pay for some of the infrastructure of modern life.  Now, as the Twin Cities and Duluth shrank and got poorer (mostly as a result of DFL policies), the original intent of LGA has been perverted beyond it’s original scope – but that’s a story for another blog post.

Now, remember the bit above about the disparity of wealth between the Twin Cities and, say, Thief River Falls back in the late sixties?  And LGA’s justification – enabling the Thief River Fallses of Minnesota to afford a new school and some traffic lights that they couldn’t manage on their own tax bases?

Multiply that disparity by an order of magnitude in North Dakota.  Towns like Williston, Dickinson, Bismarck, and even flood-ravaged Minot are booming; real estate values are soaring, to the point where it’s making it impossible for the Air Force people who’ve been the stable mainstay of the area economy for the past sixty years to live in the area.  An apartment in Williston costs about as much as an apartment in Manhattan or San Francisco. And it’s creating ripples of scarcity that are jacking up prices all the way across the state – including places like cha-cha Fargo (itself prosperous on the fringe of the oil economy as well as a tech boomlet) and less-blessed places like my own hometown, Jamestown, which is well outside the Bakken oil patch and has, like much of the state between Fargo and Bismarck, a shrinking, ageing population with an income base that is still tied to agriculture, tourism and the military, and whose property values are holding steady even as prices rise.

And so if the notion of Local Government Aid made sense in Minnesota forty years ago – and Mr. Mindeman, if you preferred the post-2002 LGA system to the pre-2002 one, let me know, since I suspect you did not – made sense, then why doesn’t it make sense in smoothing out the vastly wider disparity in North Dakota today?

The temptation would be to overcompensate for what your budget actually needs. To ask for more with the expectation that there will be a reduction.

But think about that. Every city and county would be asking for extra and their state representatives would then have to petition the entire legislature to grant the requested amount. Monetary requests would soon get out of hand and the state would be picking winners and losers across the board.

You mean – like the LGA system in Minnesota?

Not pretty.

Maybe, just maybe, you can make that all work in a booming economic time that North Dakota has for the moment. But these oil booms are always temporary. And the future is not going to be about oil….it’s about alternative fuels.

North Dakota could lock themselves into an LGA problem that makes Minnesota’s ongoing issue look like a piece of cake.

They could if’n (oh, dear, I find myself slipping back into my native patois again) the whole “how to run a demercratic gummint” thing is just too hard fer them to figger out.

Mebbe we could send them some kids from the Wellstoned Center to hep them with all that complicated gummint and thinkin’ and stuff.

The problem is that taking that local decision making away from the local government officials that have the best chance to understand local needs, is a prescription for chaos.

Even more chaotic than the scramble for housing in Williston.

Even more chaotic than the scramble among logicians to figure out exactly what Mindeman means; is LGA a good idea in Minnesota, where the income disparity done switched isself around in the past forty years (outstate supports the Metro, today), but a bad idea in NoDak, where the disparity issue is the same as it was in Minnesota in the seventies, only much bigger?  And if so, why – because North Dakotans are too dumb to figure out an idea and process that Minnesotans have turned into such a finely-tuned success story over the past forty years?

I think that’s what you city folk call “Sarcasm”.  I saw it on Jon Stewart the other night.

9 thoughts on ““Well, Golly, Elmer – We’re Gonna Have To Hire A Fella From Minneapolis To Help Us Spend This Money!”

  1. And the future is not going to be about oil….it’s about alternative fuels.
    Reasonable estimates of recoverable oil in the Bakken formation vary widely, but 24 billion barrels seems like a reasonable estimate.
    At $100/bbl, that is 2.4 trillion dollars worth of oil. Under any conceivable scenario, the $100/bbl Nodak oil will be cheaper than ‘alternative fuels’.
    These ‘alternative fuel’ dreamers are like those crazy people who believe, despite common sense and the evidence of their eyes, the conspiracy theory that the English royalty are descended from lizardoid aliens: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/biggestsecret/biggestsecretbook/biggestsecret18.htm.
    Here’s my prediction about the future: every barrel of oil it is economically feasible to remove from the ground will be extracted and put to use.

  2. Y’all will also haveta keep an eye on them big thinkers in the Cities tryin’ to figger out how to get a taste of a trillion or two for thesselves. Kind of like that feller Chris Coleman chin-waggin’ about a “regional solution” to St. Paul’s city deficit on account of all that St. Paul means to the success of the cities all around it.

  3. I hates is when them Dakotans gets cocky. Next thing you know, they’ll all be movin’ to Madison.

  4. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
    That saved a wretch like me.
    I once was lost, but I’m found.
    Was blind, but now can see.”

    Somebody quick take a screen shot of Mindeman’s post before he starts drinking the Kool Aid again and deletes it.

  5. I’m having a hard time seeing the difference in this accent. I lived in Moorhead for 3 years and recognize…most of the dialect. But it sounds more like the accent of a bucktoothed, mouth breathing, knuckle-dragging Springspleen lover than a NoDak’n.

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