The 2023 North Dakota Legislative Session began on Tuesday, January 3, 2023 This is an opportunity for us to engage with our legislators for the betterment of aviation and airports in our state. We have experienced great success in recent sessions, because we have worked together and made compelling cases to support our initiatives. I would like to brief you on our No. 1 priority for the 2023 Session: to improve the Operation Prairie Dog Infrastructure Funding Program.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, the North Dakota legislature passed Operation Prairie Dog to support infrastructure development throughout the state. This 2019 appropriations bill included allocations of Municipal/County & Township Infrastructure Funds for the non-oil producing areas of the state, and $20 million for a new Airport Infrastructure Fund. These infrastructure funds were placed at the bottom of a series of buckets that are filled by streams from both the Oil & Gas Production Tax and Extraction Tax. However, a $400 million bucket for the Strategic Investments and Improvements Fund (SIIF) was placed in front of the infrastructure funds. This $400 million bucket was never proposed as part of the original Prairie Dog program. It was placed in front of the other infrastructure funds coming out of the joint Senate and House Conference Committee in 2019. In that sense, it was a surprise to many policymakers, including sponsors of the original Prairie Dog bill. Due to a substantial downturn in oil prices and production, largely because of a drop in energy demands as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure funds failed to fill during the 2019-2021 biennium.
During the 2021 Legislative Session, Prairie Dog remained intact. At the end of the 2021 Legislative Session, it was forecasted that the infrastructure funds would not fill during the 2021-2023 biennium. This meant cities, counties, townships, and airports were unable to rely on this funding source, as they planned and prepared for projects within the current biennium. Reliable state and local funding for transportation projects is critical in order for state and local leaders to plan ahead, create shovel ready projects, and to maximize federal grant funding. It is also important to ensure that high priority projects can move forward as efficiently as possible throughout the planning, environmental, design, bidding, and construction stages.
The $400 million SIIF Fund started to fill in May 2022. Without that fund, the other infrastructure funds would have started to fill in May 2022 and would have all been filled before the end of summer 2022. The $400 million SIIF Fund is simply cash accumulated by the state. It is not programmed for any use, until the next legislative session determines how to allocate it. In the meantime, the infrastructure planning for cities, counties, townships, and airports waits for another season to begin projects – exposing them to inflation risks and delaying important infrastructure planning and projects throughout the state. The executive budget forecasts that the SIIF Fund will be over $1 billion by the end of the current biennium.
Our request is to eliminate the $400 million SIIF Fund allocation placed ahead of the infrastructure funds and let it fill at the end of the stream, as originally contemplated in the Operation Prairie Dog bill. The Airport Association of North Dakota, North Dakota League of Cities, and North Dakota Association of Counties are supportive of this change. This is a great example of how we can work together to implement change and make an improvement for our state and aviation system. Please help us support this priority by reaching out to your legislators and discussing this proposed change in the Operation Prairie Dog Infrastructure Funding Program.
We are also excited for the upcoming FLY-ND Conference to be held March 5-7, 2023, in Bismarck, ND. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend. This will be another great opportunity to meet with legislators and tell our story about how to improve our aviation system for the future.
Keep ‘em flying!
By Ryan Riesinger
President, Airport Association of North Dakota
Executive Director, Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority