It’s pretty easy to be the most popular governor in the universe when your have a billion dollar state budget surplus and when the Legislature, controlled by your party, cuts taxes by a few hundred million dollars.
And it’s pretty easy to decide to run for the United States Senate when the seat is being vacated by the state's longest-running most popular politician.
So Governor John Hoeven owes Senator Byron Dorgan two thank you notes this month, with a brief one to Senator Kent Conrad as well. Here’s why.
A week or so ago, John Hoeven was comfortably ensconced in the Governors office, his feet up on the desk, reading a paper showing North Dakota government has the best balance sheet in America, comfortable in the fact he could just cruise through his last three years as Governor and then slip quietly into the chairman’s office at First Western Bank to serve out his working years. Never mind the cries from
And then, the unthinkable . . . Dorgan quits. Well, now, that’s a different story. All of a sudden you’re the odds-on favorite to go to
Thank you, Byron. Card’s in the mail.
But what of that second thank you card? Take another look at the first sentence above. A billion dollar surplus. You can thank Byron Dorgan for that as well.
You see, while Dorgan and the pundits all talk about Dorgan’s legacy of Red River Valley Research Corridors and Devils Lake flood protection and energy policies and aid to Indian reservations, Dorgan’s legacy goes back much farther than that. It goes back to a Good Friday morning in 1977, and Election Day 1980.
In the early morning hours of Good Friday, April 8, 1977, the North Dakota Legislature enacted the state’s first real coal severance tax after an all night session. North Dakota Democrats, led by Tax Commissioner Byron Dorgan, held out through a bitter, and arguably the most interesting, legislative session in all of state history to enact a hefty tax on lignite coal to be strip mined from North Dakota’s shallow underground coal beds. A bill likely written by Dorgan’s chief lieutenant in the tax department, Kent Conrad (HB 1360), was the impetus for the beginning of what was to become a critical revenue source for
Three and a half years later, late in the evening on November 4, 1980, the North Dakota news media reported that North Dakota voters had approved an initiated measure, Measure 6, which levied a new 6½ per cent tax on oil extracted from
It was Dorgan’s genius, in both cases, to recognize that mineral extraction was going to be an important piece of
Make no mistake: Dorgan (with help from his strategist Conrad) gets the credit for the coal severance tax and the oil extraction tax. Period. Republican Legislatures have whacked away at those taxes in the years since, lowering the coal tax and creating myriad exemptions from the oil tax, but they remain in place today, and when the numbers are in for 2009, they may be providing nearly half a billion dollars annually to state government. Who’da thunk it?
Oh, absent Dorgan and Conrad, we might’ve gotten some kind of a coal tax, but we’d not likely have gotten the oil extraction tax. And today,
So take a pause, Governor, along the campaign trail, and get out your pen, and dash off a note to Byron. No, make that two. You owe him.