January 20, 2009 - Dear North Dakota

Dear North Dakota Legislators,

We're in Minot, North Dakota for a few days visiting our daughter, son-in-law and grandson at their new home at Minot AFB. We drove here from Washington (state) via I-90, I-94 and US Hwy 2 to deliver a car stuffed to the roof with odds and ends of luggage, a computer, a dog, and a cat. We spent yesterday entertaining the grandson and the dog while United Van Lines delivered a truck load of furniture. Thanks for turning up the temperature for our visit, we understand 26 degrees F is a heat wave around here in January.

I like to watch the local news when we travel. I heard a report about the North Dakota Assembly and their budget struggle with a growing $1 billion surplus. Our legislators in Olympia, Washington are struggling with a budget problem of their own. We have about a $6 billion budget deficit, and the projected deficit is growing by the day. Want to trade problems?

My research on the background of your “problem” turned up an August 25, 2008 Bismarck Tribune article http://www.bismarcktribune.com/articles/2008/08/05/news/topnews/161689.txt) with an interesting quote:
"The news [of a growing surplus] touched off a round of proposals about what the Legislature should do with the money, with Gov. John Hoeven suggesting he may support cutting the state income tax.

Democratic governor candidate Tim Mathern, who is opposing the Republican incumbent's bid for re-election, said Monday the bulging surplus was a sign of mismanagement by the Legislature's majority Republicans."

Apparently ND voters didn’t buy the “mismanagement” charge and liked your incumbent Governor’s balanced approach better, voting him back into office with over 74% of the vote. His proposed 2009-2011 budget proposes restrained investment, a tax cut and building a substantial reserve. Unfortunately, all the ND legislators who got camera time on the Bismarck news sounded as eager to spend the money as a hyper-excited lottery winner.

Our last election in Washington featured an incumbent Democrat governor who kept insisting there wasn’t a deficit in WA, and a Republican challenger who thought we ought to face reality. Our incumbent won too, but we still have to face reality. Our legislature is cutting bone as well as fat, talking about tax increases in a faltering economic climate, and the reserve is long gone.

Have you ever watched a friend making a dumb decision, one that you know isn’t going to turn out well? You know she won’t listen, but you try and warn her anyway. Hey North Dakota, take a look at your neighbor on the west end of US Hwy 2 and don’t start spending on unsustainable programs and projects. While you’re at it, give the hardworking taxpayers of North Dakota a break. And don’t forget a healthy rainy day fund, we’re having a monsoon in Washington.

There is one road improvement project I’d heartily support after driving US Hwy 2 from Williston to Minot on a mildly windy winter evening. You need markers at the edge of the highway shoulders, the kind we put up along US Hwy 2 in Washington with reflectors to keep drivers oriented in blowing and drifting snow. Come on out west and I’ll show you examples in eastern Washington, and while you’re at it you can look at the painful cuts we’re going to be making to fix our deficit. Better to avoid a crash when you see one coming, don't you agree?

Thanks for your hospitality last weekend, and stay warm. We look forward to visiting more of your state over the next few years. Hope to hear from you soon, be glad to show you around. The high temperature today in Reardan is 21 degrees F, you’ll feel right at home.