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Published February 14, 2011, 07:00 PM

New ND Tax Forecast Estimates $46M Revenue Growth

A new forecast of North Dakota's tax collections estimates another $46 million in revenue growth in the next two years.

By: Associated Press,

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's expected tax collections have grown almost $47 million in only three months, but lawmakers said Monday they do not expect the increase will influence the final shape of the state government's next two-year budget.

"I would say it probably doesn't change anything with what we're trying to do at all," said Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, the chairman of the North Dakota House's Appropriations Committee. "It's a pretty small number for what we have."

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has proposed a $9.3 billion spending plan that includes almost $3.3 billion in state general fund spending, and the Legislature's final 2011-13 budget plan is likely to be in the same neighborhood.

North Dakota's general fund is financed mostly by taxes on sales, income and energy. The rest includes federal aid and state taxes for specific programs, such as North Dakota's 23-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax, which is reserved mostly for road and bridge construction and repairs.

"When you're talking $3.2 billion worth of revenue, $40 million doesn't make that much difference," said Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader. "It just helps you balance the books."

Members of the North Dakota House and Senate's appropriations committees were briefed Monday on an updated set of state revenue estimates for the next two years. They will use the data to finish their work for the next two-year budget for state government, which begins July 1.

Analysts compile information from North Dakota's Tax Department, budget office and the economic consultancy Moody's Analytics to estimate the state's tax collections for the next two years and gauge the health of North Dakota's economy.

An initial set of revenue estimates was completed in November, in time for Dalrymple to write his budget recommendations to the 2011 Legislature, which began in January. Monday's estimates provide a fresh set of numbers, although they only include three months' worth of new data.

The estimates predict North Dakota's treasury will collect $3.02 billion by June 30, an increase of $42.6 million from November's forecast. For the 2011-13 budget period, which begins July 1, the amount of expected revenue rose $4.2 million, to almost $3.28 billion.

"It was a good, positive reflection of how our economy has been," said Sen. Raymon Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. ""We have put together a policy of growth, and it is coming true."

The $46.8 million does not include reserve funds that are expected to carry healthy balances during the next two-year budget cycle.

A fund for surplus oil tax collections should have $232 million in reserves when the 2011-13 period ends, estimates say. A "budget stabilization fund," which can be tapped when tax collections fall short of expectations, should have almost $330 million.

Legislators are still wrestling with proposals to raise spending dramatically, particularly on North Dakota's roads; cut individual and corporate income taxes; and set aside money for future local property tax subsidies.

"There's a lot yet to be decided," said Rep. Lee Kaldor, D-Mayville, the assistant House minority leader. "If you look at all the spending measures, and all of the other revenue reductions that are on the table, right now this looks like a haystack with straws poking in many different directions."

Dalrymple, who is a former chairman of the North Dakota House's Appropriations Committee, said the news was reassuring.

"When you are the governor, and you go around telling everybody that everything is going well, it's always nice to have the revenue forecast come in and actually confirm that what you have been saying is correct," Dalrymple said.