Money, Oil And April Content

More bad news this week about North Dakota’s budget shortfall, and we’re all wondering where further cuts will be made.

New budget numbers released Thursday predict $3.58 billion in general fund revenues for the 2015-17 biennium, $103 million less than what was projected in January. Those January figures already were worrisome and lawmakers know they’ll be forced to slash more in the coming weeks. For the current biennium, ending June 30, general fund revenues are projected to fall short by $46 million.

Our state’s budget woes and the causes behind it — simultaneous slumps in our oil and ag industries that deeply affect sales tax revenue — have been top of mind and tip of tongue lately, and mentioned (or heavily dwelled upon) in almost all news and trends I’ve covered in the past week, at least. I attended Energy Day in Bismarck Tuesday and, obviously, oil prices and the state’s precarious position were addressed, but the general mood is that oil prices are coming back up and oilfield activity is building. That’s to be expected at a conference by oil groups and lobbyists, geared toward oil groups and lobbyists. I hope they’re right.

Another source I spoke with this week says nobody knows when oil prices will rebound to the point we need them to to stabilize the general fund, and stay there. He says it’s all speculation and the predictions depend upon whom you talk to. I tend to agree.

But it’s hurting our state’s business sectors, and the extreme cuts to higher education have arguably been the most prominent and publicized. Eighty percent. Gov. Doug Burgum’s budget proposal — before this week’s upsetting figures, mind you — calls for an 80 percent cut to the state’s higher education budget. That’s enormous. That’s unprecedented. That’s troubling.

People are going to lose jobs. Schools are going to lose programs. In the April issue of Prairie Business, our higher education feature is devoted to explaining why the sector is seemingly being hit the hardest, how some schools determine what or whom they’ll cut and how they try to keep morale high while doing it. I wrote the feature twice as long as I intended to, but the topic warrants it.

I hope you’ll check out that article and the whole April issue when it’s available online April 4.

In the meantime, we’re all anxious to find out where the painful cuts will strike next. Or again.

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