It may come as a surprise to some that North Dakota is now the fastest growing state, according to the Census Bureau state population estimates. From July 2011 to July 2012, North Dakota grew by 2.1 percent, nearly three times as fast as the United States as a whole. The state has also ramped up improvements at the Capitol that couldn’t be missed during a recent visit.
As the NCSL liaison for the great state of North Dakota, I have the privilege of traveling to Bismarck to meet with the legislators and staff of the 39th state. The stereotype is that “nothing ever changes in North Dakota,” but my recent visit produced an interesting list of new developments.
- Recent oil and natural gas development is still booming in the Bakken Formation (also known as the Williston Basin) in northwestern North Dakota. The boom has transformed this once quiet ranching and farming region into one with truck traffic jams, overstretched local resources and infrastructure. Legislators understand the impact of the boom and plan to address key concerns during this legislative session.
- North Dakota is currently the only state with a budget surplus. Much of this surplus is due to oil and gas industry tax revenues, in addition to historical judicious biennial spending and saving habits. This year’s biennium-budget surplus is estimated to be around $1.6B. Yes, that’s billion with a b.
- During my visit, new legislative leaders were busy moving into offices and making committee assignments. Representatives Kenton Onstad and Corey Mock are the new House minority leader and assistant leader, respectively, while Senators Mac Schneider and Joan Heckaman occupy the same positions in the Senate. Senator Schneider and Representative Mock, both in their early 30s or late 20s, are among some of the younger legislative leaders in the country. Representative Kylie Oversen, from a district that represents the University of North Dakota, is also one of the youngest women legislators in the country at 23. The Republican majority leadership positions remain the same—Representatives Al Carlson and Don Vigesaa in the House, and Senators Rich Wardner and Jerry Klein in the Senate.
- A new wall sign featuring the state seal now greets visitors at the Legislative Council Office. A handful of offices and work spaces were created and painted, and some staff have new, beautiful, state-made office furniture from Rough Rider Industries—welcome improvements from the decades-old furniture that had graced some offices.
- One of the new offices is occupied by a new fiscal analyst in the Legislative Council. That’s unusual because the average tenure of Council staff is more than 20 years. Jason Steckler, formerly information technology manager, heads up a new administrative services division that oversees the IT and other admin-related duties of the Legislative Council. An expanded IT crew is also on hand to set up legislators with new laptops, tablets, and handle audio-visual improvements in committee rooms.
- Flat-screen monitors have been added to most committee rooms to allow hearings and legislative sessions to be broadcast online and archived. A long-awaited new bill-tracking system is up and running, in addition to a redesigned website.