Job Service North Dakota official will testify before Congress

BISMARCK–The executive director of Job Service North Dakota is slated to testify before Congress this week.

Maren Daley will share her experiences working with North Dakota’s reemployment efforts and offer suggestions for what Washington can do to better engage the unemployed and provide states more flexibility in assisting them, according to a news release from the office of Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D.

Daley will testify before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources during a hearing Thursday to review the unemployment benefit proposals in the president’s latest jobs plan and assess whether they will help the long-term unemployed return to work. 

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation

Daley said she’s honored to speak before the committee. 

“Our state and Job Service North Dakota understand the importance of helping the unemployed return to work,” she said in a statement. ”Job Service North Dakota has experienced positive results with reemployment activities and believes using innovative options and having flexibility to implement strategies that are good for our state ultimately provide for faster economic progress.”

Kemnitz stepping down from AFL-CIO after 28 years

BISMARCK – A man who dedicated nearly 30 years to advocating on behalf of North Dakota workers is stepping down later this month.

After 28 years as president of North Dakota’s AFL-CIO, Dave Kemnitz will leave the job on Oct. 31 after deciding not to seek re-election.

“To be a part of the greatest group and singular struggle in representing workers in their workplace, community, state and nation has to be considered the greatest opportunity and honor any individual could ask for. It sure has been for me,” he told members at the state convention in Grand Forks last week.

The North Dakota AFL-CIO has approximately 10,000 members. Kemnitz was first elected president in 1983. He previously worked as executive director of the North Dakota Building and Construction Trades Council and as president of the Bismarck Central Labor Council.

Now 62, Kemnitz plans to return to his roots as an electrician.

“You’ve gotta have a place to land mentally when you leave,” he said. “This has been my life. I love what I do, but I think it’s time to let someone else (do it).”

Kemnitz said his interest in union activism began in 1974 with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers apprenticeship program.

“I was tired of some of the abuses that you sustain or are foisted on you from not having any strength,” he said. “You’re just one person against an employer that can pretty much do what they want. Most are good, but not always.”

As president of the state AFL-CIO, Kemnitz has appeared countless times before legislators and other state officials to advocate for workers on issues such as workers compensation, pensions, unemployment and other labor laws. His job also entails providing resources and assistance to unions across the state and lobbying at the federal level.

Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said Kemnitz developed a reputation as “a fighter, a voice for working people.”

“He is just a tireless representative for working families throughout the state,” Schneider said.

Even those who didn’t always agree with Kemnitz praised his years of service. North Dakota Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson said Kemnitz will be missed in the legislative process.

“He wasn’t always on the same side as we were, he didn’t see the world in the same way, but he was a gentleman and someone that, even though from time to time he opposed you, it was a pleasure to work with him,” Peterson said.

Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, agreed.

“Dave was always a gentleman, a good adversary on occasion,” said Keiser, chairman of the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee. “I have tremendous respect for Dave as a person, as a lobbyist. I’m kind of disappointed that he’s retiring on the one hand, but I’m awfully happy for him personally.”

Gary Granzotto of Minot will replace Kemnitz. Granzotto is a Michigan native with a master of divinity degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He spent nearly 10 years working in conflict resolution ministry before deciding it was time for a change in careers.

He then spent about 17 years working as a custodian for Minot Public Schools and became active in the union. He looks forward to taking on his new role.

“I think we are living in rather perilous times for American workers, for the middle class, for democracy in our country,” Granzotto said. “I believe I have leadership abilities to help us in that struggle.”

North Dakota offers job, internship webfair

BISMARCK–Job seekers can explore nearly 120 internships and job opportunities with more than 20 North Dakota companies through the state’s latest online job fair. 

WebFair ND is underway now through Oct. 31. 

Coordinated by the North Dakota Department of Commerce, the online career fair is popular with businesses, project coordinator Adele Sigl said in a news release. 

“It is a low-cost avenue for recruitment that doesn’t involve the travel and expense of traditional career fairs,” Sigl said.

Services provided to businesses that participate include: 

 *   A virtual “booth” that showcases their current openings and provides information about who they are and what they do.

 *   Marketing of WebFair ND to job seekers (both in- and out-of-state) and North Dakota college students.

 *   Post-event tracking report of website and booth-specific visits.

Commerce began coordinating these events in 2008. This is the fifth WebFair ND that Commerce has sponsored.

State approves tax exemptions for eastern N.D. businesses

BISMARCK – Three eastern North Dakota businesses planning new projects and expansions should receive five-year tax breaks, state officials decided Monday.

Ideal Aerosmith of Grand Forks, Somahlution of Fargo and Phoenix International of Fargo applied to the state for five-year, 100 percent income tax exemptions for new or expanded business projects.

Phoenix International is looking to build a new 90,000-square-foot facility to help provide adequate space for product test equipment, engineers and manufacturing lines. The budget for the project is $22 million.

“Today we are constrained, space constrained, so that’s the reason for the new facility, and our growth is enough that we will continue to utilize the buildings that we have,” Kyle Oetker of Phoenix International told state officials.

The company engineers and manufactures electrical components designed for harsh environments for original equipment manufacturers. The new facility would allow the company to grow its product test capabilities and expand into the power electronics market, its state application said.

“Power electronics are those electronics that are used in hybrid-type vehicles,” Oetker said. “Our role is harsh, rugged environments, so we’re trying to make electronics to hybridize construction equipment, tractors, combines, off-road type vehicles.”

Phoenix International hopes to add 56 jobs by 2017 as a result of this expansion and requested a tax break worth an estimated $666,073. The company also applied for a property tax exemption with the city of Fargo.

Ideal Aerosmith develops and manufactures test solutions for several industries, including aerospace, marine, oil exploration and automotive. These test solutions are typically used during product development and for functionality verification of high-tech equipment, its state application said.

The company plans to add 20 jobs by 2014 and requested a tax break worth an estimated $63,454.

Somahlution is a biotechnology company developing products for transplant medicine. The technology is being developed and the products readied for testing. The company hopes to begin selling products in 2013, its state application said.

The company plans to add seven employees by 2015 and requested a tax break worth an estimated $12,635.

The State Board of Equalization – which includes the governor, tax commissioner and state treasurer – unanimously approved the three requests.

North Dakota economy is still roaring

BISMARCK—North Dakota’s economy continues to soar and bucks the national trend of lackluster consumer spending, the state’s tax commissioner said today.

During April, May, and June, retail sales grew to $4.5 billion, driving a combined growth of over $1 billion for all 15 industry sectors in total taxable sales and purchases compared to the same months in 2010. 

“North Dakota experienced a remarkable second quarter for taxable sales and purchases,” Tax Commissioner Cory Fong said in a statement. “Even with the onset of statewide historic flooding during the second quarter, North Dakota’s economy continued to grow and consumer confidence remained strong, bucking the national trend of lackluster consumer spending.”

Twelve of the 15 major sectors reported gains when compared to the same time one year ago, a news release from the Tax Department said.

The wholesale trade sector grew by 51.1 percent, representing the largest dollar increase of $410 million. The financial, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing sector reported the largest percentage of growth of the major sectors, rising by 116.4 percent when compared to the second quarter of 2010, the release said. 

Other sectors showing gains include: transportation and warehousing, 116.1 percent; mining and oil extraction, 83.1 percent; construction, 31.1 percent; utilities, 23.5 percent; manufacturing, 23.5 percent; accommodation and food services, 11 percent; retail trade, 9 percent; and professional, scientific, technical and management services, 4 percent. 

Education, health care, and social services declined 9.7 percent; information industries, 6.3 percent; and arts, entertainment, and recreation, 4.3 percent.

Of the 50 largest cities, the biggest percentage increases for the second quarter include Stanley, 114.1 percent; Tioga, 106.1 percent; Williston, 75.2 percent; Crosby, 68.1 percent; and Watford City, 66.9 percent, the release said.

Of the 50 largest cities, only two reported second quarter decreases: Cavalier, down 18.3 percent; and Larimore, 11.2 percent.

Counties with the highest percentage increases were Sioux, up 410.8 percent; Mountrail, 109.2 percent; Burke, 88.7 percent; Williams, 81.6 percent; and McKenzie, 64.3 percent.

Counties with the biggest percentage decreases were Steele, down 10.7 percent, and Pembina, down 2 percent.

Fong said third and fourth quarter reports will more accurately reflect the effect of statewide flooding and the impact of excessive moisture on the state agriculture industry.

Find the full report here.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

Thank you for the article on new North Dakota laws. I was curious: Can a postal worker take a gun in his vehicle to work?

Ken Dahl

Lakota

Thanks for writing! Ken is referring to a new law that says employers may not prohibit employees or customers from having lawfully-possessed firearms locked inside their private vehicles in a parking lot.

Exceptions include schools and correctional facilities. The bill also includes this exception:

“Any other property owned or leased by a public or private employer or the landlord of a public or private employer upon which possession of a firearm … is prohibited under any federal law, contract with a federal governmental entity or other law of this state.”

I contacted the law’s sponsor, Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo. He said the post office didn’t come up during the bill hearings or deliberations. He found the federal regulation (39 CFR 232.1) regarding guns on U.S. Postal Service property:

“Weapons and explosives. No person while on postal property may carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed, or store the same on postal property, except for official purposes.”

“As best as I can tell, federal law/rule does preclude the pertinent sections of the law to which House Bill 1438 applies,” Kelsh said.

To be sure, I also contacted the U.S. Postal Service. Spokesman Pete Nowacki sent me the following:

“I sent this question to the USPS legal department. They agreed with the bill’s sponsor as to the application of 39 CFR 232.1 and added a pair of citations from case law:

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held this prohibition to be constitutional under the presumptively lawful category of “sensitive place” regulations acknowledged in the District of Columbia v. Heller … See United States v. Dorosan … (affirming an employee’s conviction for storing a handgun in a car parked on postal property).

“Under Heller, the Supreme Court determined that although the Second Amendment protects an “individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” that right is “not unlimited,” and does not permit any person to possess any weapon wherever he or she may choose.

“Specifically, the court held that “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings” are “presumptively lawful” and further explained that restrictions on firearms in these particular places were merely “examples” of lawful regulatory measures.

“In Dorosan, the court held that the Postal Service was not obligated by federal law to provide parking to its employees. As such, should an employee seek to store a firearm in his or her car but abide by the ban of firearms on postal property, then an employee must secure alternative parking arrangements off postal property.

“The Postal Service maintains that its property is a “sensitive place” in accordance with the Heller court. As such, the change in the North Dakota state law does not trump the federal regulations the Postal Service relies on that prohibit firearms on government property.

“I hope that this information is helpful.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

State treasurers gather in Bismarck for annual conference

BISMARCK–State treasurers from across the nation are coming here for a conference that will include discussions of the Bank of North Dakota, state pensions and the economic outlook. 

North Dakota State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt will host the 2011 National Association of State Treasurers conference Saturday through Wednesday. Attendees include 26 state treasurers, their staff  members and  numerous corporate affiliate members, a news release said.

Conference speakers include:

- David Mulford, vice chairman, Credit Suisse International and former ambassador to India

- Narayana Kocherlakota,  president and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

- Rich Karlgaard, editor-in-chief and publisher, Forbes Magazine

- Eric Hardmeyer, president, Bank of North Dakota 

A complete conference agenda can be found at: www.nast.org/2011annual/agenda.htm

N.D. budget director receives national honor

BISMARCK—North Dakota’s budget director received the “Outstanding CPA in State Government” award at a national conference this week.

Pam Sharp was honored for contributing significantly “to increased efficiency and effectiveness of government organizations and to the growth and enhancement of the CPA profession,” according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Sharp, director of the Office of Management and Budget, built a foundation of fiscal strength that enabled the state’s bond ratings to improve, a news release said.

“Her focus in controlling state spending and debt, providing tax relief, building reserves and better managing government was critical to North Dakota’s solid financial performance during the recent economic downturn,” the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants said in the release.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Sharp deserves the honor.

“Her extensive knowledge of state finances and policy are a tremendous asset in our daily commitment to prudent fiscal management,” he said in a statement. 

Sharp has served as the state’s budget director since 2003 and has worked in the office for nearly 20 years. She has also worked for the state treasurer’s office, the state auditor and the Tax Department.

Sharp is a native of Watford City, N.D.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

In the Jamestown Sun … The AP had an article on Internet sales and lost tax revenue for the states who are feeling an economic pinch. Amazon and others are mentioned, which raised my eyebrows. Over the years, including this one, I have ordered items from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sears and others.

As I recall, the ONLY time a North Dakota state tax was NOT included (as a line item) was a camera purchase from B & H Photo in New York. The rule, as I understood it, was if they had a physical presence in our state, sales tax was mandatory. This raises my curiosity: was the tax charge a clever revenue enhancement?

Do you know if our state tax commissioner actually receives the tax collected from Internet sales? Does he have a list of companies who do collect it and send to the state?

Robert M. Brown

Jamestown 

Thanks for writing! I contacted Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. Here’s what he said:

“Thank you for your email requesting information about Internet retailers and sales tax collections.

“Your understanding of the rule is correct. Retailers that have a physical presence in North Dakota are required by law to register and collect our sales taxes. Even though Internet sellers that do not have a physical presence in North Dakota are not required to collect our tax, we do have some that do voluntarily register, collect and remit sales taxes to our office.

“The sales tax statutes have confidentiality provisions that prohibit the state Tax Department from disclosing information about sales tax accounts. Because of those provisions, we cannot provide a list of Internet sellers that do or do not collect our taxes.

“Retailers that must collect tax are required to register with our office, and we issue a sales tax permit to all companies that complete the registration process. State laws require retailers to display the permit so customers can verify the retailer is authorized to collect tax. Unfortunately, displaying a permit is not effective for a remote business that operates outside the customer’s home state.

“You do have the right to ask a retailer if they have a valid North Dakota sales tax permit number. Sales tax permit numbers can be verified on our website. To verify a permit, go here.

“If you enter a valid permit number in the search, the response will tell you the number is valid and the name of the registered retailer.

“I’m sorry we cannot be more direct regarding specific retailers. I hope this information is helpful in response to your questions.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

North Dakota Unclaimed Property tries to give back $32M

BISMARCK – Linda Fisher sits in a booth at the North Dakota State Fair each year, trying to give away millions of dollars.

Some approach her cautiously, trying to determine if it’s a sting operation.

But she has legitimate money – $32 million worth that’s built up since 1975, to be exact.

Fisher is administrator of the Unclaimed Property Division of the State Land Department.

Despite the sound of it, the division doesn’t give away land or real estate – just money. And there are more than 61,000 people and businesses with a right to it.

The money comes from a variety of sources: state tax refunds, insurance proceeds, death benefits, uncashed payroll and expense checks, securities and safety deposit boxes.

Rebates that never made it to customers or were never cashed are also piling up. Federal tax refunds do not end up there, however.

Businesses are required to go through their accounting books every year to see what’s outstanding, Fisher said. If they are unable to reach the person owed money, the money needs to be reported to the state where it can be claimed free of charge.

Because the State Fair was canceled this year due to flooding in Minot, Fisher is trying other ways to get the word out about unclaimed money held by the state. She also wants to clear up misconceptions about the agency.

“The unclaimed property list is not a list of people that can’t be found,” she said, adding people are often amazed the division “can’t find” hospitals and well-known people on the list to give them their money.

Rather, the list is just that: a list of people and businesses that have money held by the state. And they need to claim it.

Besides those who are simply unaware, there’s “a list as long as my arm” as to why people don’t claim their money, Fisher said.

About one-third of the claims are for $50 to $100, according to 2007-09 data, the most recent available. Some people don’t bother if their claim is a small amount.

Others think the claim process is too difficult. And some have unusual reasons.

“One guy had $10,000 here, and he called me and he said, ‘I will never claim it. It’s blood money,’ ” Fisher said.

The man’s family claimed the money after he died.

Grand Forks Public Schools typically checks once a year to see if it’s made the unclaimed property list, said business manager Bill Hutchison. The district is in the process of collecting its latest amount of $500, he said.

“I’m glad they do it (the service),” he said. “It works out well.”

AAA North Dakota is among those on Fargo’s list of residents and businesses with unclaimed money. Spokesman Gene LaDoucer said he had no idea the state was holding money that belongs to the agency. He planned to look into collecting the money.

Others, like Stuart Savelkoul of Bismarck, know the state has their money, but haven’t gotten around to collecting it.

“I know I should do it,” he said. “I even know how to get all of the information (for the claim). I just haven’t done the step-by-step process yet.”

About one-third of the claims are fairly easy to collect, but others require more work, Fisher said.

There is not an expiration date for a claim on the money, so the state can’t take possession of it after a certain period of time without the owner’s consent.

However, the state does use the interest from the fund to benefit the common schools trust fund, Fisher said.

Every state has an unclaimed property law, but some companies claim they don’t know about the law or don’t report unclaimed property until they get caught, she said.

North Dakota has typically fared better than other states with returning money, in terms of what’s collected compared to what’s paid back, Fisher said. Word of mouth helps, since “everyone knows someone who knows someone,” she said. They also run newspaper ads and try other approaches to spread the word.

In fiscal year 2010, the state took in $3.8 million in unclaimed property and paid out $1.5 million.

Is the state holding your money?

To find out if the North Dakota Unclaimed Property Division has money that belongs to you, visit http://www.land.nd.gov./ Click on Unclaimed Property Division. Then click on “To search for unclaimed property by name or city and print a claim form, click here.”

Then search by last name or by city.

If your name is on the list, the amount you are entitled to is $50 or more. The specific amount is not listed on the website.

If your name appears, there are instructions on the website for the claim application. You may also contact the Unclaimed Property Division at (701) 328-2800.

Administrator Linda Fisher warns consumers to beware of unclaimed property scams.

“You should never have to pay to look for your name on an unclaimed property website,” she said. “If you’re in doubt about something, call us.”

If you have lived in states besides North Dakota, she advises visiting missingmoney.com. This national database includes most states and provides contact information for participating unclaimed property divisions.