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Legislators are paid a base of $495 per month plus an expense per diem of $177 per day when in session. They are also eligible for state health insurance as are state employees.
The candidates were asked six written questions. Their written answers follow. The answers were not changed in any way.
1. What assistance, if any, would you advocate that the state of North Dakota provide Jamestown in the purchase of a ladder truck for the Jamestown Fire Department? Explain.
George Barnes: I would advocate for the state to agree to paying 100% of the ladder truck. The ladder truck we had was purchased by the state for fire protection for a six-story building at the ND State Hospital. Thank you to all in the community for your help with fundraising to purchase the ladder fire truck. Senator Grabinger had an amendment in the OMB budget, but it was rejected by majority leadership. Again, a ladder truck is needed to fight a fire at the State Hospital, and it needs to be paid for by state funds.
Pamela Musland: The State of North Dakota is refusing to uphold their end of a memorandum of understanding that has been in place with the City of Jamestown for years. The state agreed to provide an aerial ladder truck in exchange for the city providing fire protection services at the state hospital. Precedence was set in 1952 and 1980 when the state purchased trucks for the city. A bill that was introduced in the last legislative session to fund the truck failed. State department heads also refused to bring the matter before the State Emergency Commission. Now, with the help of donations and the fire department’s equipment replacement fund, a new ladder truck will arrive in October. But that fact alone doesn’t let the state or legislative leaders off the hook. Legislators who argue Jamestown is getting preferential treatment are wrong. The state isn’t honoring the agreement. I’ll advocate for our ladder truck and replenishment of the tens of thousands of dollars the fire department has lost in their equipment replacement fund.
Mitch Ostlie: I believe the city had a proposal of cost sharing of 1/3 each by the city, the state and private fundraising. I would support that proposal. Explain: I do not think it was right that the state in effect, promised to pay for a replacement truck years ago through a “memorandum of understanding”. The city therefore did not set aside monies in their budget for that expenditure. I believe the proposal of 1/3 of the cost is more than a reasonable compromise to resolve this issue and I will work for Jamestown to try get the support needed for this.
Bernie Satrom: The next legislative session is going to be challenging. North Dakota is an Energy and Agricultural State with over 50% of our tax revenue generated by the energy industry. The pandemic has had negative effects on oil demand and prices which impacts our tax revenues, coupled with Agricultures low commodity prices our state’s financial projections are less than rosy. I believe that our first goal needs to be funding our priorities without raising taxes. I believe we need to maintain our K-12 Education, provide property tax relief and last but not least take care of our Senior and vulnerable citizens. I would advocate for financial assistance from the state after these items are taken care of.
2. What actions can the state of North Dakota take to facilitate economic recovery from the problems caused by the coronavirus pandemic?
Barnes: The CARES ACT provided $1.25 billion to ND. School districts, small businesses, employees still not able to work, senior care centers, and other entities affected by COVID 19 need to be closely looked at regarding losses they incurred. The CARES ACT dollars must be distributed in a fair manner to all involved. It appears more federal dollars may be forthcoming. If that’s the case, we must ensure added money helps all concerned in a fair manner as well.
Musland: The pandemic has shed light on weaknesses within our economy that existed before the pandemic started. We need to reevaluate systems and make corrections to strengthen North Dakota long term. Take our food supply chain, for example. North Dakota is home to roughly 1.83 million beef cattle and calves, but only slaughters 8,800 head of cattle a year. The state could infuse money into local slaughter facilities, so North Dakota ranchers aren’t forced to ship cattle out of state and retailers aren’t forced to purchase beef from out-of-state processors. “North Dakota Beef” could become the brand out-of-state retailers seek. We also need to rethink how we fund state budgets, given our overreliance on oil and a volatile oil market. Investment in other industries, opportunities must happen. State funding needs to be directed to school systems and the challenges associated with distance learning and broadband technology. It also needs to support the long-term sustainability of our hospitals. Many are facing revenue shortfalls with the loss of elective surgery income. Lives depend on their viability.
Ostlie: The Bank of ND has been assisting local financial institutions in providing low interest loans to support North Dakota businesses in their economic recovery. The State has also been distributing federal Cares Act monies from the federal government to counties and cities. Distributing these dollars with as few strings attached as possible is important so that each entity can use the dollars in areas of need as they see fit. We need to continue communications with all entities to provide assistance where needed.
Satrom: Invest in our own future: Our State Investment Board controls the investment of Billions of Legacy Fund dollars. By investing in North Dakota and opportunities in our own communities we will create more jobs and a brighter future for all of us. Diversify our economy to help us deal with the cyclical nature of Energy and Agriculture. We need to nurture an economy which encourages job creation. (I co sponsored a bill for Workforce Training) Reasonable taxes, financing and common sense regulations spur investment, jobs and growth. Higher taxes and regulations hamper job and economic growth. Base our decisions on Facts not politics or emotions. We need to continue to make our decisions based on the best information possible. Businesses which have taken decades to build could be destroyed by unnecessary mandates. North Dakotans are hard working and creative and can develop creative means to provide goods and services in a safe manner.
3. What, if anything, should the state do to aid local counties, cities and townships with road costs?
Barnes: Money was available to be used in the Prairie Dog Bill, but due to the price of oil falling and a revenue shortage forecast, the money will not at this time be used to aid local counties, townships, and road costs. The state legislature could set up a bonding fund to resolve these issues at the next legislative session. Also, if elected I would propose using some of the Legacy Fund dollars. We are in a situation like no other, and if elected I would certainly look at all ways possible to alleviate our time of need. Our rural roads are essential to get our food to market and to get children to school. Counties and townships do not have the funds to repair roads from this ongoing wet cycle.
Musland: It’s clear that counties, cities and townships cannot generate enough funding to pay for the rising cost of road and bridge repair. The state has to step up. Asphalt resurfacing of a roadway now costs more than $1 million a mile. Replacing the viaduct bridge would cost between $15 to $20 million. The majority party’s much touted “Operation Prairie Dog” bill that was passed last legislative session was supposed to provide funding for local infrastructure improvement projects in non-oil producing counties. But it was based entirely on the oil industry doing well and did not prioritize local infrastructure. The Municipal Infrastructure Fund, for example, is seventh in line to be filled after six preceding tax revenue “buckets” have been filled. When the pandemic hit, oil took a nosedive. Operation Prairie Dog has failed. We need dedicated dollars for infrastructure tied to Legacy Fund earnings or some other guaranteed revenue source.
Ostlie: This is a big need across the entire state and no easy answers. We may be able get some federal assistance for some areas and we need to continue to work at expanding our economy to increase revenue without burdening the citizens with additional property taxes.
Satrom: Our city has significant infrastructure needs and local townships and our county have been struggling to keep and maintain roads above the rising water levels. For that reason I support initiatives like the Prairie Dog bill to assist with some of those expenses.
4. Why should voters choose you to serve in the North Dakota Legislature?
Barnes: First and foremost, I believe with my rounded experiences I am a great candidate to serve the people of District 12. I care about people care, our community, and the great state of North Dakota. I will be a good steward of our money. I have a commonsense approach to issues and will not be kowtowing to the special interests that come to Bismarck looking for special favors. I do not go with the flow just to get along, I never have. We can do better and if you hire me as your representative in District 12, I will represent all the people of District 12, and not just the few. I’m not a good old boy or a crony that will hang out in Bismarck for my own interests. This election is about you, the people of District 12, and the people of the state of ND.
Musland: I’m running to make a difference for you and your family. We need a fresh perspective in Bismarck. I will bring a strong work ethic and no-nonsense approach to the legislature, always mindful of how our hard earned tax dollars are utilized. Most of my working life has been dedicated to helping family farmers and ranchers. I’ve also been a weekly newspaper editor, school board member, small business owner, chamber of commerce member, varsity tennis coach, and longtime volunteer with Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels, and the Two Rivers Activity Center. I’ve gained tremendous insight from those experiences. I may be outspent by my opponents in terms of advertising and political fliers that voters receive in the mail, but it doesn’t mean my passion is any less for Jamestown or its citizens, who I want to see grow and thrive.
Ostlie: I believe my background of growing up on a family farm in North Dakota, being a classroom and substitute teacher for many years as well as my nearly 30 years of being in business has given me a perspective that will be very useful as a legislator. I have served on various committees and boards since I moved to Jamestown 29 years ago, including; Jamestown School Board, Church Council, Elks officer and City of Jamestown Planning Commission. Since being appointed to the North Dakota House of Representatives and Education Committee earlier this year, I have been cultivating relationships with other legislator’s across the state. Having these relationships and trust being built with other legislators before the next legislative session starts in January will be extremely valuable. Also, in my insurance business, I have been helping clients protect their assets and financial future for many years. I would be doing the same for the citizens of Jamestown and North Dakota by continuing to serve as your representative.
Satrom: It has been a great honor to serve the people of District 12 in the ND House. Thank you for your trust, input and encouragement. Because of your input we advanced meaningful legislation including a Workforce Job Bill, Task force to prevent Child Sexual Abuse, Fraudulent Service Animals, Virtual School Bill plus championed bills to increase sentences for Egregious crimes against small children. Even though we may not always agree I respect and appreciate your input. It helps guide my decisions and votes. I do my homework. But when I am not sure of the answer I call people that I respect for advice. Thanks to many of you in District 12 who took my phone calls when I needed input. Your perspectives and information are invaluable. I build relationships. I know how to disagree without being disagreeable and build cooperation and ownership, I have had the privilege of building great working relationships with constituents, legislators and state officials. I work hard and take serving District 12 seriously.
5. A proposal to create the Buffalo City Park in Jamestown would utilize investment from the state’s Legacy Fund. What do you think about the proposal?
Barnes: I love this proposal! It is an investment that will change Jamestown forever. It will be a boom for our community and for our state. We are the perfect location and have the perfect landscape to build a Buffalo City Park second to none. Jobs! Tourists! Pride! Generated tax dollars badly needed. Investment is the way to grow North Dakota.
Musland: I fully support the Buffalo City Park project. It is a visionary idea for Jamestown and an even better investment for our state. Currently, the State Investment Board is responsible for managing the Legacy Fund’s principal balance. That task is largely turned over to hedge fund managers in eastern states, who invest in businesses we know little about. According to a Fargo Forum article, we invested over $12 million in a Chinese company called Tencent, which the president recently banned from doing business in the United States. Proponents of the Buffalo City Park are just asking the State Investment Board to take a small portion of the principal they manage and invest it in economic development projects in North Dakota that show a positive rate of return, like the Buffalo City Park. It’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t we invest in North Dakota and keep those dollars local and turning over in our communities? We have a real opportunity to grow our local and statewide economy by investing in ourselves. Let’s do it!
Ostlie: I believe this is a terrific project and I am in support of it. The state investment board has the authority to invest the principle of the legacy fund to get a return on that investment. I believe it is time they look at projects within the state and invest in North Dakota. The projections I have seen so far gives the state an actual return on that investment and not just a draw on the principle. There is also a multiplier effect that needs to be taken into consideration. Jobs, increased tourism and business opportunities cannot be overlooked. Our economy in ND is so dependent upon Ag and Energy. To be more financially stable, we need an additional source of revenue and I believe tourism can be that source. The population of the city of Jamestown hasn’t changed significantly in the last 60 years. We need to grow to help keep our property taxes in check and a project like this can help not only Jamestown and the region, but the entire state.
Satrom: I first heard about the Buffalo City park several months ago. I applaud the efforts of our community leaders who have spearheaded this effort. The Buffalo City Park is exactly the kind of project that our community and ND needs. We need to diversify our economy so that we are not so dependent on Energy and Agriculture. Since I was introduced to the project I have visited with several legislators about its merits as well as 2 conversations with Governor Burgum. Currently the State Investment Board invests our legacy fund in a variety of investments around the country and foreign countries. Why not invest some of that money in North Dakota? We can diversify our economy, create more jobs and at the same time increase the taxes received in North Dakota. I believe the State Investment Board will see the wisdom of investing some of our money in North Dakota. If they do not I have a Bill already drafted and ready to file in the next session to “encourage” them to invest.
6. What, in your opinion, are the top 3 greatest challenges facing North Dakota at this time?
Barnes: With COVID 19 and oil prices falling to an all-time low has made life challenging for us all. But, I will address three specific issues that are important. 1) Funding public education at the level needed so we have students, whom are our state’s future, achieve at the highest level possible, 2) lowering healthcare costs and prescription drugs, we must as a legislative body in ND do all we can to find solutions to bring down the costs, and 3) creating good jobs with good pay.
Musland: The economy, crumbling infrastructure, and full funding of K-12 education to reduce local property taxes. All of these challenges are tied to state revenue. If we invest in ourselves now and utilize the resources and opportunities we have, such as the Legacy Fund, we can meet challenges head-on and grow our economy by leaps and bounds.
Ostlie: 1: Balancing the budget while at the same time maintaining strong funding for education and our vulnerable populations. 2: Diversifying the economy, so we are not so dependent on the Ag and Energy Industry. 3: Funding for roads and other infrastructure needs.
Satrom: #1 How could the outcome of the Presidential race impact North Dakota? I think we understand Trumps policies but what about Biden’s? Sometimes campaign rhetoric is just rhetoric. But what if Biden succeeds at banning Fracking? Much of our land is privately controlled so is it exempt? What happens if he attempts to confiscate weapons? (I don’t see that going well) What if he implements the Green New Deal? What will the effect be on electrical and heating bills for Senior citizens and vulnerable adults? Many economists and investors believe that a change in the Presidency would impact the stock market. What effect would that have on our legacy fund and state retirement funds? How would that effect our retirees? State Employees on Retirement? Is there anyway to lessen the severity? #2 Rebuilding our economy, getting people back to work, finding a new normal in a reasonable safe way. #3 Social Concerns: Supporting K12 Education, Dealing with Addictions, Mental Health and Criminal Justice needs.