Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

Who do I talk to if I want to complain about my bank?

Jerry Littke

Hillsboro

Thanks for writing! I called the North Dakota Department of Financial Institutions. Here’s what Commissioner Bob Entringer said:

“It depends. If it’s a state-chartered bank, it would be us. If it’s a national bank, it would be the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“A credit union is a different entity. For a state-chartered credit union, call us. If it’s a federal credit union, then the National Credit Union Administration.

“I would guess, just off the top of my head, (we get) between 10 and 20 (complaints) a year, maybe. It’s not a lot.

“They can call our general phone number, 701-328-9933. We also have a complaint form on our website at www.nd.gov/dfi/forms/index.html. At the bottom is a complaint form. They can email that to us or mail it.”

Dear Teri,

Does North Dakota have a real estate seller’s disclosure law? If so, can you tell me where to find the information? I did not purchase my home through a real estate agent (FSBO) and discovered major water damage hidden under a dropped ceiling and freshly laminated flooring. Just wondering if I have any recourse.
Terri Gerhart

Minot

Thanks for writing! I contacted the North Dakota Real Estate Commission. Here’s what Executive Director Pat Jergenson said:

“No, there is not one. It’s not mandatory. We recommend that people use one. We recommend (real estate) licensees get one from their seller. There is no law stating there has to be one.

“Civil court is what we would recommend if she had called our office. Probably small claims court, depending on the cost. Small claims court goes up to $10,000 now. I don’t know what the cost would be.”

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.

Jaeger approves pharmacy petition

BISMARCK–Advocates wanting to change North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law will get another go at it in the coming year.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger has approved the pharmacy petition for circulation, a news release said. The initiated measure would amend state law by removing the requirement that an applicant for a permit to operate a pharmacy must be a licensed pharmacist, a business controlled or owned by licensed pharmacists, or a hospital pharmacy or postgraduate medical residency training program, the release said.

The sponsoring committee must gather at least 13,452 qualified signatures to place the measure on the ballot. 

A petition drive last year failed because organizers neglected to include a list of the measure’s sponsors when they circulated petitions.

Eric Thompson, a Bismarck physician, is serving as the spokesman for the group because he wants his patients to have access to discounted prescriptions from large retail chains, The Forum previously reported. 

 “I think the people of North Dakota will vote in favor for this archaic law to be repealed,” Thompson told The Forum earlier this month.

Pharmacists have defended the law, saying patient care is improved when the owner/manager has a pharmacist’s perspective.

To place the measure on the June 12 election ballot, the petitions with a sufficient number of signatures must be submitted to the secretary of state before midnight on March 14. 

The sponsoring committee has one year  to secure signatures.  If they do not meet the deadline for the June election, they must submit enough signatures by July 16, 2012, to have the issue placed on the November 2012 ballot.

State legislators defeated a bill earlier this year that would have changed the pharmacy ownership law.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri, 

Since we’ve bought a used car from a South Dakota dealer 18 months ago, we’ve received a number of letters and calls from private companies offering to sell us extended warranties. I don’t mind the contacts, but how do companies know about the vehicle we’ve purchased? The dealer claimed they do not sell or give away our information. Does the North Dakota DMV sell or give away information regarding who has recently purchased vehicles? If they do sell it, how much does the state make from giving out this information?

Thanks,

Eric Pederson

Fort Ransom, N.D.

Thanks for writing! The Motor Vehicle Division has a form that allows people to request vehicle information. The form asks for the identity of the person requesting the information and what information is requested.

The fee is $3 per vehicle or $3 per search if nothing is found.

I contacted Jamie Olson at the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Here’s what she said:

“The North Dakota Department of Transportation follows the state’s Century Code for all requested information from motor vehicle records. The information is outlined in the N.D. Century Code Chapter 39-33.

“To protect the public from unwarranted intrusion, there are restrictions on who can get what information and for what purpose the information can be used. The process to obtain this information begins with filling out a form that can be located on the North Dakota Department of Transportation site. This form must be completed to ensure a valid and documented reason is provided before the release of any information.

“North Dakota law prohibits the disclosure of personal information from the Motor Vehicle Division’s records except to people that meet one or more of the exceptions that are listed on the form. As you will notice on the form, the individual or organization must sign the request to provide signatory validation of the request as lawful and necessary for their intended purpose.

“Thank you for writing into the North Dakota Department of Transportation.”

To expand on this, the form states the following (and contains much of the wording of the state law cited above):

“North Dakota law prohibits the disclosure of personal information from the records of the Motor Vehicle Division except to persons or entities that meet one or more of the exceptions listed below. Personal information is defined as the name or address of vehicle owners.”

There are a dozen exceptions listed on the form, including:

“For use by any government agency, including any court or law enforcement agency, in carrying out its functions, or any private person acting on behalf of a government agency in carrying out its functions.

“For use in connections with matters of motor vehicle or driver safety and theft; motor vehicle emissions; motor vehicle product alterations, recalls or advisories; performance monitoring of motor vehicles, motor vehicle parts and dealers; motor vehicle market research activities, including survey research; and removal of nonowner records from the original owner records of motor vehicle manufacturers.

“For any use specifically authorized by law that is related to the operation of a motor vehicle or public safety.”

Olson said they filled approximately 900 requests for vehicle information last year.

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.

N.D. leads nation in economic growth

BISMARCK–North Dakota leads the nation in economic growth, with a 7 percent increase in gross domestic product last year, according to a national report.

Statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show real gross domestic product increased in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Minnesota grew 3.2 percent.

Gross domestic product is the sum of what consumers, businesses and government spend on goods and services, plus investment and net foreign trade, a news release from the North Dakota Governor’s Office said.

“These latest statistics help confirm that our efforts to create jobs and to sustain a positive business climate are getting results,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a statement. “It’s very encouraging that our growth stems from nearly every business sector and that no single industry tells the whole story of the great progress we’ve made.”

The report says mining contributed nearly 2 percentage points to North Dakota’s real GDP growth of 7.1 percent.

North Dakota’s economic growth is also reflected in wholesale trade, retail trade, construction, transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, and the finance and insurance sectors, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports.

The governor’s news release says other statistics that show the state’s economic progress include:

· Since 2000, North Dakota has created 47,900 new jobs, an increase of 14.6 percent. Nationally, the number of new jobs has declined by 1.49 percent over the same period.

· North Dakota’s average wage has increased by $13,444 between 2000 and 2010 – an increase of 54.47 percent. The most recent available data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the national average wage increased 30 percent between 2000 and 2009.

· The value of North Dakota exports totaled $2.5 billion in 2010, an increase of 303 percent from the state’s export value of $626 million in 2000.

· North Dakota’s per capita personal income has increased 58 percent since 2000, while the nation’s per capita personal income has increased by 34 percent.

New Bismarck newspaper launches

BISMARCK—A Bismarck native has launched a new newspaper in this city with a goal to provide more investigative and in-depth local news.

Matt Bunk, 32, is editor and publisher of the Great Plains Examiner, available in print and online. After working as a reporter and editor in several states, he said he became frustrated with the way that corporate newspapers operate.

“A lot of times, the editors and publishers … often they’re just trying to find something to sell ads around. They don’t really care what it is, and the last thing they want to do is make anybody upset,” Bunk said.

“I believe that the whole purpose of newspapers and journalists is to make people upset, to make people think, show them what’s going on behind the scenes and sometimes it’s not pretty.”

The newspaper will focus heavily on political and business news in Bismarck-Mandan but will also feature people stories, he said. The paper will publish once a month, but will be updated frequently online at www.greatplainsexaminer.com.

Both the newspaper and website access are free, with about 10,000 papers distributed throughout Bismarck-Mandan. There is also a mailing list of about 1,300 people, Bunk said. He’s looking at adding news racks in Beulah and Wilton, as well as other surrounding cities.

The paper is not affiliated with other Examiner media organizations or with a political party. The Great Plains Examiner is tabloid size and does not include content from the Associated Press. There are about a dozen people involved with the operation, including writers, investors and distributors.

Writers include Fargo freelancer Sarah McCurdy, former Bismarck Tribune columnist Kelly Hagen and Minnesota State University Moorhead history professor Steve Hoffbeck.

Bunk said friends approached him about 10 years ago to start a newspaper in Bismarck and offered to provide funding. He decided to take them up on the offer now after looking at the Bismarck market and thinking there was an opening for the kind of journalism that he likes to do.

“I’m talking about more investigative journalism, more in-depth looks at some of the most important issues that are going on in a community,” he said. “I like to hold public officials accountable for their actions and what they do. I didn’t see that being done the way I like to do it here in Bismarck.”

When asked for comment on the new newspaper, Bismarck Tribune Publisher Brian Kroshus sent the following statement:

“The field of journalism, while challenging, is indeed rewarding and it’s a privilege to serve the public,” he said. “I know our employees take great pride in what they do on a daily basis, and I’m sure their staff will feel the same with their new venture.”

McCurdy said Bunk is energetic and passionate about what he does. She said it’s going to be fun to see how the newspaper moves forward.

“I think the newspaper is creating some buzz,” she said. “People are talking about it, and that’s what you want.”

Hagen said he’s proud to play a part in providing Bismarck-Mandan with this new alternative.

“It’s locally owned and operated, and I think we’re going to live up to that and represent the community as best we can,” he said. “It’ll be local stories told by local writers. We aren’t the property of an out-of-state corporation.”

It’s been several years since a new newspaper launched in North Dakota, said Roger Bailey, executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.

The Lake Metigoshe Mirror in Bottineau is now in its seventh year and has been successful, he said.

“It (starting a newspaper) doesn’t happen too often this day and age, but I think it does indicate that it is a sign of a healthy situation,” Bailey said. “Newspapers aren’t dying. We’re still thriving in different forms, of course, in addition to the print product.”

Bunk said he’s in the process of finding office space. The paper now prints in Mitchell, S.D., but he’s looking for a North Dakota printer. The paper will come out around the first of each month and can be mailed upon request for the cost of postage.

Bunk said he knows he’s going against the grain of the newspaper industry by starting a print paper, but he’s determined to make a go of it.

“I haven’t totally given up on newspapers yet. I don’t think this community has totally given up on newspapers, either,” he said. “I think the good ones will survive.”

Bunk can be reached at 701-645-1270.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear readers,

I received the following letter from a Jamestown reader:

“I am writing this to learn more about tax exempt. I saw your column in the Jamestown Sun. I work for a large discount store, where we issue tax-exempt to businesses and government and so on.

“Well, my question is how do we stop the fraud that goes on? We have some businesses that give their cards to employees, and they misuse these cards. They buy personal merchandise with their tax-exempt cards.

“I would like to know some of the rules and regulations on using tax exempt and how a store can monitor some of these sales. We have some of these businesses that get donations from parents and other businesses, yet they use their school tax exempt to buy gifts for after-prom parties and after-graduation parties. This is just one example. I have more.”

Thanks for writing! I contacted Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. The response below is a mix of comments from him and from Blane Braunberger, supervisor of the sales/use tax compliance area:

“North Dakota law provides for certain non-profit organizations and government entities to be exempt from sales tax. The Tax Department issues a certificate of exemption to eligible entities to be used when making qualified purchases. Sellers should allow tax-exempt purchases only when a copy of the certificate of exemption form issued by the Tax Department is presented to the seller.

“The tax-exempt entity must pay for the purchase directly to the seller, either by check or by credit card. Generally, the use of cash to pay for the purchase should be a red flag. The seller may request additional information from the purchaser to verify the tax-exempt status before the transaction is completed.”

You can find six pages of information about what products are exempt from sales tax and what entities qualify for tax-exempt status at http://tinyurl.com/44ogl6f.

Examples of organizations or institutions exempt from sales tax are:

E State and local fairs: The receipts from sales of tickets or admissions to state, county, district and local fairs are exempt from sales tax during fair week.

E Private and parochial schools: Private nonprofit schools are exempt from sales tax when purchasing items to be used exclusively in the operation of their school.

E Public schools: Public schools are regarded as instrumentalities of state government and as such are exempt from North Dakota sales and use tax on all purchases made by them.

E Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, basic care facilities and emergency medical services providers licensed by the North Dakota Department of Health are exempt from sales tax for all purchases of goods and services for the use or benefit of patients or occupants.

I asked if an entity can have its tax-exempt status revoked for misusing it, and how people can report if they think it’s being misused. Here’s what the Tax Department said:

“These entities are exempt by law, so we most likely would not revoke an exemption. If there is suspected misuse of the exemption certificate and the department is notified, we will check into the matter.

“These exemptions are all based on North Dakota law and were passed during a legislative session. Some of the more recent exemptions passed involved assisted-living facilities and emergency medical providers.

“The number of entities having an exemption is about 3,000. This quantity, however, doesn’t include every federal government agency since they are exempt from sales tax by federal and state law. The estimated impact of lost revenue is difficult to determine since retailers do not report their nontaxable sales to exempt entities as a specific line item on their sales tax return.”

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.

Commerce bill compromise reached

BISMARCK—North Dakota lawmakers reached a compromise on Wednesday regarding the state’s Centers of Excellence and child care funding.

The Commerce Department’s budget provides $3.1 million for child care grants for work force development, quality improvement, capacity building and technical assistance. The Department of Human Services will award the grants.

The bill also allocates $12 million for Centers of Research Excellence. This provides $4 million for grants related to limited deployment-cooperative airspace projects, with $2.7 million for the University of North Dakota and $1.3 million for North Dakota State University.

Another $4 million each will go to NDSU and UND. Of UND’s money, $3 million is for base realignment grants for infrastructure or enhancement of economic development and employment opportunities.

The budget also allocates $1.5 million for work force enhancement grants.

There is also $1 million for investments in startup technology-based businesses, $750,000 for tourism infrastructure grants and $300,000 for the Bismarck IDEA Center, a not-for-profit organization assisting individuals with business ideas.

The budget includes $600,000 to assist in the acquisition of the antiballistic missile site in Nekoma. There is also $150,000 for the American Indian Business Development Office.

The compromise bill sets aside $150,000 for an electronic portfolio pilot project at Valley City State University and the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton.

The multimedia website would allow students to showcase their education and skills to potential employers.

In addition, $50,000 is provided for the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation 2020 and Beyond initiative. Private and public officials will study successful models of other states and countries for creating economic to see if they could be applied here.

The committee will also evaluate the effectiveness of programs and investments in the state designed to develop the state’s workforce and to attract and retain businesses. Another goal is to consider what new investments in infrastructure and changes to taxes and regulations could be made to increase the state’s standing as a business-friendly state.

Operation Intern received $900,000. Legislators also changed the application process so companies can apply for funding more than once per biennium, said Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo.

The continuation of the biofuel blender pump incentive program is also part of the final bill. The Department of Commerce will provide cost-share grants of up to $20,000 per retailer for the installation of biofuel blender pumps and up to $14,000 to install associated equipment, including the piping systems and storage.

The conference committee eliminated a state energy director from the budget, a position requested by the governor.

The bill also no longer includes a study of gas flaring issues, but now has a study of early childhood services provider training and assistance. Another study of the impact of future population growth on state and local government revenues is also included.

The bill must now go to both chambers for final review.

House approves new Commerce budget

BISMARCK—The battle over Centers of Excellence and child care grants continued Thursday as the state House again passed a budget for the state’s Commerce Department.

Unhappy with changes the Senate made to the original bill, the House killed the budget on Wednesday and decided to start over again.

Even with the new bill, Centers of Excellence and child care grants remain points of contention between the two chambers.

The House again left out $13 million for the centers and restored child care funding to nearly $5 million. The Senate wants the $13 million for Centers of Excellence and cut the child care money to $250,000 during its first go-round with the bill.

The child care money is to provide grants to service providers for work force development, quality improvement, technical assistance and capacity building.

Rep. Kathy Hawken, R-Fargo, stressed the importance of the funding, calling child chare a work force development issue.

“When those workers that are being hired come to North Dakota, they need a place for their children to be safe,” she said.

Here are some of the other items in what’s now Senate Bill 2057 that the House passed Thursday on a 73-19 vote:

- $1.5 million for tourism infrastructure grants.

- $4.2 million for a Grand Forks Air Force Base realignment grant. This is to provide grants for infrastructure or enhancement of economic development and employment opportunities.

- $300,000 for a Bismarck idea center, a not-for-profit organization to assist individuals with business ideas.

-$100,000 for the promotion and marketing of USS North Dakota.

Rep. Bob Skarphol, R-Tioga, said the budget puts more emphasis on small entrepreneurs than big projects.

The House’s version of the budget does not include funding for a state energy director, an electronic portfolio pilot project or the American Indian Business Development Office, all of which the Senate supports.

Assistant Minority Leader Lee Kaldor of Mayville opposed the removal of money for the Centers of Excellence. He said there’s a stringent vetting process for awarding money and the program is important to North Dakota’s growth.

He also pointed out that the House could find more than $5 million to add to the Commerce Department budget in 24 hours, but says it can’t afford smaller projects in the health and human services budgets.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo said the debate isn’t over on Centers of Excellence, and the budget is far from being finalized.

“In the end, we’re going to do what’s best for creating a good, solid work force in the state,” he said.

The bill now heads to the Senate for senators to offer their counterproposal.

Senate approves personal, corporate income tax relief

BISMARCK—The state Senate approved $111.4 million in personal and corporate income tax relief on Monday but debated over the amount and how long it should last.

The approved version allocates $99.2 million to reduce individual income tax rates by 15 percent, the same amount approved by the House.

The Senate’s version of House Bill 1289 also reduces corporate income tax rates by 8 percent at a cost of $12.2 million.

Some senators wanted to see $145 million in relief. This would have reduced individual income tax rates by 20 percent. It also would have reduced corporate income taxes by 10 percent.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, supported the higher amount, saying the state should give money back to its hard-working people.

However, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, said it “was a little too rich” for the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve.

The bill also includes a sunset clause, meaning the reductions only apply to tax years 2011 and 2012. This also created disagreement.

The time limit sends the wrong message, Cook said. The Legislature can revisit the reductions if it needs to in the future without a sunset clause, he said.

However, Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said the uncertainty at the federal level means the state may soon need to fund programs that the federal government has funded up until now.

There’s also uncertainty about what impact the Environmental Protection Agency may have on the state’s energy industry, he said.

“The uncertainty of the future makes me feel that we need to have this sunset clause,” he said.

Democrats offered another alternative that sought to provide a tax exemption on the first $75,000 of corporate income, an effort they said would help small businesses.

The Democratic proposal also sought to provide a flat individual income tax relief credit of $140 for individuals and $280 for joint filers rather than apply a rate reduction to income brackets.

Senate Minority Leader Ryan Taylor of Towner estimated a $57 million price tag for the Democrats’ proposal. He said it’s more fiscally responsible and gives higher proportional relief to those who need it most.

“Our state is in good shape right now and there should be tax relief, but we want to target that relief to middle-income North Dakotans, working families and small businesses,” he said in a statement.

The proposal failed on a 12-34 party line vote.

The Senate’s proposal of $111.4 million in tax relief with the two-year limit will now go to the House for review.