December 5, 2008

Onstad: Legislative session

Onstad: Legislative session

could pit large vs. small towns

By STU MERRY

It’s stacking up to be the big guys against the little guys this coming legislative session. At least that’s what Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-NPL, Parshall, predicts.

Onstad, along with newly elected Rep. Tom Conklin, D-NPL, Garrison, met with members of the Garrison Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee recently to discuss the upcoming legislative session. Unable to attend was District 4 Sen. John Warner, D-NPL, Ryder. Observing his first Governmental Affairs meeting in Garrison, Conklin said he is learning as he goes as he prepares for his first session.

Onstad predicted battle lines will be drawn as the session progresses -- urban vs. rural.

"It’s all about trying to grow your own area," he said.

One area where he sees a battle will be in how medical reimbursement is doled out. Onstad said he thinks healthcare could be the No. 1 topic during the session. School funding, as in the past, should be another hot button.

"It’s going to draw the lines between big cities and smaller cities," Onstad predicted.

Getting a piece of the pie to sustain the smaller districts could be foreboding.

"We’re going to have to fight and squeal for everything we can get," he forecasted.

Onstad said the struggle this session would be to find a plan that is fair across the board.

"It’s tough to write one formula that’s going to fit all," he said. "We need to look at something more sustainable."

Onstad said in spite of a horn of plenty in the state coffers, legislators will have to be wise when budgeting funds for the next biennium. He said whatever is implemented must be sustainable in the future and not be a burden if revenue declines.

The state’s surplus should be about $1.3 billion -- but in that, $200 million is in a rainy day fund. Another $600 million is tucked away in a trust fund, leaving about $500 to $600 million in accessible dollars.

Onstad said he hopes the Legislature looks at the big picture when making decisions come January. His take is that when rural economies do well the whole state does well.

"We need to focus on the rural economies … it’s important we get the help and assistance for the rural areas," he said. "When Garrison and other small communities do well, larger communities do well. It will feed into that -- and that’s the message we have to promote."


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