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.

North Dakota again makes Letterman Top 10

BISMARCK–David Letterman has once again included North Dakota in one of his Top 10 lists.

On the show tonight, the list topic was “Signs the United States is running out of money.”

One of those signs? “There’s a listing on eBay for North Dakota.”

So, in the spirit of good humor, let the fun begin. How much do you think North Dakota is worth?

PS: You can find the entire Top 10 list here.

Dalrymple to appear on CNBC

BISMARCK-Gov Jack Dalrymple will discuss North Dakota’s economy on CNBC show “Squawk Box” Tuesday morning.

The governor will participate in a live interview from 7:40 to 8 a.m. CT, according to his schedule.

Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said North Dakota is in a position not shared by many states.

“They really want to talk to the governor about what we’re doing right here: why we have a surplus, why we’re able to invest heavily in infrastructure and, at the same time, why we’re able to build our reserves,” Zent said.

Dalrymple will also emphasize that it’s not just oil driving the economy, but also agriculture, technology companies and other businesses, Zent said.

CNBC senior talent producer Lori Ann LaRocco said they decided to include Dalrymple on the show because of the economic track record of the state and the fiscal measures the Governor has enacted to grow the state’s economy.

Dalrymple will be on with Becky Quick and Joe Kernen to discuss his outlook on North Dakota’s economy going forward and how the historic floods have impacted the state, she said.

They will also discuss what head winds businesses are seeing and how the nation’s economy and regulatory landscape is shaping his economic plan, she said.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

Just wondering how the North Dakota Lottery is making out? Is the lottery making a profit after expenses, and how is the profit being used?

Thanks,

David Jenson

Thompson, N.D.

Thanks for writing! I chatted with Lottery Director Randy Miller to find out what’s new. Here’s what he said:

“The lottery continues to receive broad public support in the play of our games. Fiscal year 2011 ticket sales through May 31 are $21.4 million.

“We’re estimating to transfer approximately $5.4 million to the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.

“In addition to that, we’re also looking at transferring $422,500 to the multi-jurisdictional drug task force grant fund. Also, each year, $200,000 goes to the compulsive gambling prevention and treatment fund.

“We’re pleased with our sales. Players are continuing to support us and the lottery. We have five games: Powerball, Mega Millions, Hot Lotto, Wild Card 2, and 2 by 2. Last year was our record-setting sales year for the lottery at $24.4 million in sales.”

The Lottery Division is also updating its website and working to enhance social media communication, he said.

The breakdown of each $1 lottery ticket can be found at http://www.lottery.nd.gov/. Here it is:

• Prizes: 52 cents.

• Contracted services: 10 cents.

• Retailer commissions 5 cents.

• Administrative/operating expense: 3 cents.

• Marketing/advertising expense: 3 cents.

• Compulsive gambling prevention and treatment fund: 1 cent.

• Multi-jurisdictional drug task force grant fund: 2 cents.

• Prize reserve pools: 1 cent.

• State general fund: 23 cents.

Dear Teri,

Is it legal to drive down the road with your plug in your boat?

Sandra Sackett

Grafton

Thanks for writing! I contacted the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Here’s what Nancy Boldt told me:

“Yes, it is. Most people take them out … there’s no requirement to leave it in or out.”

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 releases $35 million to non-oil counties

BISMARCK–State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt has handed out $35 million worth of checks to the state’s non-oil producing counties, cities and townships for road projects.

The payment is the first of the $60 million allocated by the 2011 Legislature. The $25 million payout will come next year. (Find the legislation directing this funding on pages 2 and 3 here.)

To find out how much money your area is getting, view this report: Highway report. Here is the township report

Or, you can manually look it up here: go to this link. As an example of how to search, click county. To see the recent results, the payment date begin and end should be 6/13/2011.

Under distribution type, select either 2011 HB 1012 Highway or 2011 HB 1012 Township Road. Then select the county.

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.

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.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

I would just like to know the reason why state employees are only paid once per month instead of every two weeks like other employees in the work force.

Mark Fahsholz

Walcott 

Thanks for writing! I contacted Pam Sharp, director of the state Office of Management and Budget. Here’s what she told me:

“When the payroll system began for state government, it was set up as a monthly payroll.

“When we implemented PeopleSoft in 2003 for payroll, the universities adopted what was built into PeopleSoft, which is a bimonthly payroll with a two-week lag. (For example), you work the 1st through the 15th, and you get paid for that on the first of the next month. There’s a two-week lag.

“When we talked about implementing that in PeopleSoft for state agencies, there was just a huge resistance from employees.

“(Now), for April, you work the 1st through the 30th, and May 1 you get paid for that whole month. For people that are on salary, you get paid the day after that (month) ends.

“If we were to switch to a bimonthly, where you got paid the 1st and the 15th, because there has to be a two-week lag, on May 1, they wouldn’t get paid just for that one time until May 15th. (In other words, there would be six weeks in between paychecks instead of four weeks that one time.)

“After that, they would be paid twice a month.

“Many, many agencies visited with the governor, wrote letters to the editor. No one wanted to go through that initial period of waiting for the lag. So, we made the decision to stay with the monthly payroll rather than upsetting everyone’s personal finances.

“All the campuses now get paid twice a month. They were supportive of that. They thought it was worth it to go through that initial lag, and it all worked out fine for them. State employees, they were really adamant about not doing that.

“We went with what they asked us to do.”

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.

New chart shows distribution of oil tax revenue

BISMARCK–Last summer, I wrote a story explaining the state’s complicated formula that determines where all of the money from oil tax revenue goes. This spring, legislators revamped that formula.

Here is the new chart explaining how oil extraction and production tax revenue will be distributed during 2011-13. The Office of Management and Budget provided the chart.

Last week, the Tax Department told me that the forecast of total oil tax collections for the 2011-13 biennium is $2.041 billion.

UPDATED: Schafer not interested in 2012 governor run

BISMARCK – Former Gov. Ed Schafer said Wednesday he is not interested in serving again as North Dakota governor.

Conservatives have pointed to a possible gubernatorial run in 2012 for Schafer, who has been vocal about his concerns about the North Dakota Legislature’s spending this session.

When asked flat out if he was interested in running, Schafer said, “I’m not.”

“My only point was I think that we are developing, building a government that we’re not going to be able to afford in the future,” he said.

The Legislature approved a nearly $10 billion budget before it adjourned last week, which includes $4 billion in general fund spending.

Schafer, who served as governor from 1992 to 2000, said the state is becoming too dependent on oil, “a cyclical commodity,” as a revenue source.

Schafer said he made comments that he might have to “come in to mop it up again” if the state finds itself in the same financial situation it had after the 1980s oil crash.

But he said running for governor is not something he wants to do, and he is not interested in being drafted.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said last week during an end-of-session news conference that he doesn’t think the state is headed for a crash.

“I believe that we have enough optimism in this Legislature – and enough confidence in where we’re going in the next two years – that they felt they absolutely could sustain this budget,” he said.

Looking at the general fund revenue picture for the next two years, sales and use taxes (including motor vehicle) account for about 45 percent of total general fund revenues. Personal and corporate income taxes account for nearly 20 percent.

Nine percent is oil and gas gross production and extraction tax revenue. Another 18 percent – the Strategic Investment and Improvement Fund and the Property Tax Relief Fund – also involves oil-related sources.

Oil and gas gross production and extraction tax revenue expected for the current biennium is $1.411 billion, the state Tax Department said Wednesday.

The forecast of total oil tax collections for the 2011-13 biennium is $2.041 billion.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo also addressed those who say the state spent too much money this legislative session.

“There was a lot of spending but, in my opinion, we put it in the right place,” he said last week.

Major spending items from this session include the $342 million in property tax relief and $370.6 million for oil counties and $60 million for non-oil producing counties for infrastructure needs.

The state spent $235 million for water projects, including Devils Lake outlets and Red River Valley flood control. K-12 schools will receive $102.5 million more in the 2011-13 biennium than they did in the last biennium. Republicans say the additional funding will help keep local property taxes down, and $54.3 million of it is to achieve adequacy of K-12 funding per a legal settlement.

The ending fund balance projected for the 2011-13 biennium is $51 million. There is also estimated to be $386 million in the budget stabilization fund and $700,000 in a new strategic investment and improvements fund.

The Legislature also set aside nearly $342 million to use for property tax relief during the 2013-15 biennium. The Legacy Fund is expected to have more than $600 million in the bank by the end of 2011-13, although legislators can’t spend any of that money until 2017.

Schafer said he’s a loyal Republican and said there are great people in office.

“I’m just concerned that Republicans over the last 10, 12 years have abandoned some of the principles that make our party strong and that, of course, would be the growth of government,” he said. “I’m going to be fighting to get us back to our principles.”

Schafer said he could go through the budget and agree with Republican legislators on “all kinds of things.” But he said there also needed to be more prioritization.

“In my opinion, this Legislature tried to solve problems by spending taxpayer money in many places that they didn’t need to,” he said.

Continuing to increase government by 25 percent is not sustainable, he said.

“I’m going to be vocal about it. We have to correct it,” Schafer said. “I worry that we’re building a system that we just are not going to be able to sustain over time.”