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North Dakota Whirligig

1/21/2016:

In what the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican called “the North Dakota Whirligig,” finances were very much in the news on this date in 1939. The departments of state government had gotten into a habit of exhausting their budgets, with officials leaving office on January 1 with six months of the biennium left to go. When a new legislature was called into session, the departments would come with their hands out asking for money to finish out the fiscal year.

In 1937, the legislature passed an appropriations bill that would save 25% of an appropriation for the final six months. This was supposed to resolve the dilemma. It would ensure that departments would have enough money until the next budget passed. But two years later, it was apparent that the “75% law” had not solved all the problems.

There was some evidence that not all was well, and newspaper expressed sympathy for readers who were trying to follow the confusing events, noting that it was “not surprising” that North Dakotans were befuddled. In one curious incident, the attorney general’s office had taken sides with the motor vehicle registration bureau in a dispute with the state auditor. The auditor said there was a $29,000 discrepancy in the department. The auditor hired a private attorney at the expense of the state to take the matter to court. The court found that the department had indeed made illegal transactions.

In another matter, the board of auditors suggested having former auditor Richard Franklin investigate the auditor’s office, but that was seen as having Franklin investigate his earlier behavior. In addition, the board of auditors was looking into the State Mill and Elevator, and the state-owned Bank of North Dakota. But the attorney general was a member of the board of auditors and was the manager of the auditors. As such, he was their boss. But the attorney general was also a member of the industrial commission. That commission was responsible for overseeing the state mill and the state bank – another case of a state official investigating his own area of responsibility. The newspaper even mentioned possible irregularities at the Jamestown asylum. Readers were assured that there’d be more news to come on the state’s convoluted finances.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “North Dakota Whirligig.” 27 January, 1939.