North Dakota's budget surplus continues to exceed all expectations. The latest estimate puts the state's surplus at an expected $1.6 billion, fueled by huge growth in sales tax revenues and the ongoing oil boom.
The surplus doesn't count the $1.1 billion in a variety of state reserve funds that carry restrictions on how those funds can be spent.
What's the state to do with a $1.6 billion surplus? No doubt every legislator in the state would have a different opinion on how to best use the money, but we have a simple question:
Could the state establish some sort of fund similar to Alaska's Permanent Fund?
This year, eligible Alaskans received a check for $878. Previous years' payouts have been as high as $2,069 in 2008, and as low as $845 in 2005. How much money is distributed each year varies, using a complicated formula of averages for the fund's investments. There are also restrictions on who is eligible. Residents have to have lived in Alaska for an entire calendar year (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31) to be considered, and anyone convicted of a felony in that calendar year is not eligible, among other restrictions.
Given the state of North Dakota's current population boom, figuring out who's eligible could be complicated, but not impossible. Politicians often discuss ways to use a budget surplus, with reducing property taxes usually high on the list of possibilities. But not everyone owns property.
What's more effective than direct payments to eligible residents? Much of the distributed money would no doubt find its way back into the local and state economies. Direct payments would benefit a broader portion of state residents than a reduction in property taxes.
Why couldn't it be done?