Oil tax allocation dispute now before a state Senate committee

Mar 14, 2019

State Land Commissioner Jody Smith testifying before the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee 3/13/19
Credit Dave Thompson / Prairie Public

The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee is considering a bill to make it clear how monies from state oil taxes collected in the Fort Berthold reservation are allocated.

State Land Commissioner Jody Smith has said some of the money to be allocated to the Common Schools Trust Fund and the Foundation Aid Stabilization Fund was not. The state Treasurer’s office said that’s because the wording concerning how taxes from tribal lands are to be allocated was ambiguous, though Smith maintains the matter is clearly spelled out in the state Constitution.

Sen. Dwight Cook (R-Mandan) chairs the Committee. He also authored a delayed bill on that subject.

"I'm not sure whether the money should have been going there or not," Cook said in an interview. "There's some ambiguous language. We just have to straighten it out."

A hearing was held Wednesday on that delayed bill.

Smith testified before the Committee that the Land Board supports the bill – but wants to add amendments, so that the money she said was short-changed -- $63 million to the common schools trust fund, and $12 million for the foundation aid stabilization fund – is repaid.

"The facts of not repaying the Common Schools Trust Fund will impact education in the state of North Dakota for generationss to come," Smith told the Committee.

But Cook said he doesn’t support that.

"I don't want to talk about retroactive," Cook said. "I don't believe you have to go retroactive. But I know it's going to be an issue."

The committee has not yet taken action on the bill.