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Monday, May 07, 2018

SCHMID: LOOKING BACK FROM THE LEFT COAST - MAY 7, 2018

BUSINESS CONDITIONS BRIGHTEN  A Creighton University survey indicates business conditions in nine mostly Great Plains states reached a decade high.  ND is doing its part — oil tax revenues for the 10 months beginning July 2017 are 23 percent above forecast.  Most of those revenues go to constitutionally established reserves such as the state’s $5 billion plus Legacy Fund and are not available for general fund spending.  The state’s ag sector continues to lag.
 
PUBLIC PENSION PLANS in ND are in better shape than states with seriously distressed systems, such as Illinois.  ND has two similar sized plans, NDPERS (Public Employees Retiree System) and TFFR (Teachers Fund for Retirement).  Each plan has about $2-1/2 billion in assets.  PERS is 70 percent funded; TFFR is 64 percent funded.  However, TFFR made reforms which put it on a path to becoming fully funded.  PERS has a long-term shortfall which requires legislative adjustments.  The changes could take the form of higher contributions by both employers and employees, a reduction in benefits for new hires, or both. 
 
ND HAS TWO OIL REFINERIES — a Mandan refinery with a capacity of 74,000 barrels a day and a Dickinson refinery of 20,000 barrels a day.  Both are owned by Andeavor (formerly Tesoro).  Andeavor is being acquired by Marathon Petroleum — the combination will make the largest U.S. refiner.  Both companies have other oil and gas properties in ND.
 
HART FAMILY  Newly released documents from an Oregon investigation indicate authorities in that state and Minnesota were aware of years of allegations about the parents of a family of eight which plunged off a California cliff into the ocean in March.  Yet, agencies in both states were unable to gather sufficient evidence to charge abuse.  The lesbian parents deftly countered allegations by characterizing their adopted black children as “high risk” with many issues.  They claimed they moved to Oregon because of constant harassment by intolerant Minnesota people.  The parents also conducted a PR blitz by displaying the smiling children at festivals and rallies and staging them for news photos.
 
I RARELY MAKE PREDICTIONS, but am about to.  As more information trickles in about the Hart family, a compelling story is emerging involving South Dakota (where the mothers were educated), Texas (where the children were adopted), Minnesota (where the children were first taken), Oregon and Washington (where the family relocated), and California (where they tragically died).  The family rolled a GMC SUV near Missoula, so add Montana to the story.  I predict writers are already working on related magazine articles, TV scripts, and even books.  The story has many dimensions and will not fade away.  There will be further investigations in most of the above-named states.
 
A VICTIM OF CRAFT-BEER  Why is Cargill closing a malt barley plant near Jamestown?  A Star Tribune article furnished the why — the Jamestown plant uses six-row barley, the variety grown in ND, while market demand has shifted to two-row barley, a variety grown in dry areas of western states such as Idaho and Washington.  The two-row barley is favored by craft breweries which are increasing their share of market.  Cargill says a malting facility in ND no longer makes sense.  Plant scientists are working to devise a two-row barley that will thrive in humid areas of the Midwest.
 
PUZZLING DECISIONS  The Democratic Party has an unusually weak position in ND, this apparently causes them to believe they have little to lose by making marginal decisions.  For example, they chose a convicted felon from the Standing Rock Reservation as their congressional candidate in 2016 — the outcome was predictable.  Now they have chosen Jodi Gillette, an Indian activist, pipeline opponent and sister of former Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault, as the speaker for the Democrat’s annual Governor’s Dinner.  There is speculation these actions were taken to bolster Indian support for Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.
 
THE NEW INCOME TAX LAW receives mixed reviews.  Devils Lake CPA Steven Britsch chimed in with his version.  Here are excerpts from his newspaper letter: “Those who voted for tax reform were placing a bet on the entrepreneurial spirit and work efforts of the American people . . . Recent history has shown us that betting on the government with raising taxes and government spending didn't work.”  Britsch described the law’s favorable effect on his clients. 
 
ELEVEN COLLEGES & UNIVERSITIES  Gov. Burgum’s proposed reductions in future budgets of the ND University System alarm many people in the academic community.  Critics focus on a 31 percent cut from the 2013-15 (a peak) to the current 2017-19 budget.  Rob Port takes a longer view — he notes that in the last decade there has been a 32 percent increase in spending and only a 7 percent increase in enrollment.  He asks why isn’t that enough?  He believes a big part of the answer is the small state’s insistence on maintaining 11 public institutions of higher education.
 
END OF CATHOLIC RESETTLEMENTS  The Trump administration suspended refugee programs which brought many arrivals from Somalia — a top country for refugees coming to ND and Minnesota.  As a consequence of the drop-off in refugees, Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities is ending its resettlement programs.  Prior to 2017, Catholic Charities resettled several hundred refugees each year, second only to Lutheran Social Services.
 
COINCIDENCES  Margaret Job (87) was born July 27, 1930 in Medina, ND (pop. 300); a little more than two weeks later, Loverna Metzger was also born in Medina.  Both married Hoffman men and farmed near Medina.  Both husbands died a few years ago.  Loverna died April 25, 2018 and Margaret died one day later on April 26 — both were buried in Medina.
 
DAKTOIDS:  GF Airport does not handle many passengers, yet it is one of the busiest airports in the country, sometimes with nearly 2,000 takeoffs and landings a day.  How’s that?  Credit the aerospace program at UND . . . Fargo-Moorhead has 550,000 square feet of retail space “going dark” due to the closure of large retailers.  The key word is “repurpose” . . . Fargo has a reputation for being one of the windiest cities — the reputation was enhanced Sunday when a windstorm ripped off the legs of Sunny the fiberglass bison, a downtown fixture bolted to the sidewalk..
 
 

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