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Should we call it “The Perfect Storm”? I, along with most economists who write about agriculture because it is so important to those areas we are writing about have been saying crop prices are going to go down and that means the incomes we look at are going to decline.

We apparently were right. If you read Moody’s Analytics chart of wheat and soybeans, two important ND crops, that is what has been happening. Their prices are declining. As always I am surprised about Moody’s analysis. Where is the corn. It isn’t on the chart and it certainly has become important to ND. So too have been dry beans and they are also not charted.

So, take the figures with a grain of salt, no, at least a half teaspoon of salt. With what they show though wheat and soybean prices are more than 20 percent about the 2010 base. Of course in 2011 and 2012 they both were as much as 60 percent higher than in 2010 and that is significant. If they were shown, so too would corn and dry beans. Moody’s show all food commodities at about 25 percent above the 2010 average, down from a peak in late 2012 of about 35 percent above the 2010 base of 100.

If you don’t believe that has made a difference just drive by the implement dealers lots and look at all the machinery in their lots. If that doesn’t convince you go inside and ask a salesman. Watch their eyes.

As for Moody’s projections, they are only short about a percent a one-half in sales taxes. That is certainly within the realm of acceptability. However, individual income tax collections are nearly 40 percent above their predictions and so too the corporate income taxes, collections more than 40 percent above their predictions. Auto sales excise taxes are 10 percent short of what they predicted.

They are so far off on so many accounts that when it comes to the bottom line the net figure collected is only a little more than 6 percent greater than their predictions.

This begins to get complicated, but please note: The general fund cap for oil and gas taxes contains two tiers. The first tier of $200.0 million was reached in October 2013. Additional oil taxes will flow to the property tax relief fund until that fund receives $341.8 million, after which time the general fund will receive an additional $100.0 million. Total production and extraction tax collections were $250.3 million in February 2014. Monthly allocations to the property tax relief fund were $73.4 million; allocations to the legacy fund were $69.6 million.

Standby. A significant negative in collections could lead to an interesting situation before the biennium is completed. I don’t know the people in OMB, and I have tried to keep my comments from being partisan in anyway, but I am glad that Jack Dalrymple is the Governor. They may have a tiger to ride before the biennium is over.


In Grand Forks and in several other cities in North Dakota the March city sales tax payments are down considerably from January and February. And then while the town is much smaller Devils Lake is even up a little and after being down for several months in a row, Minot is up, and by a lot. Across the state it is a mixed bag, and after this hard winter, difficult to assess.

I am not sure if we are seeing the beginning of the slow down in North Dakota that many of us have been expecting, or if the January and February payments were made quicker and now the adjustment for all the Christmas spending is over and it will take another two months or so for us to see the real trend for 2014. Both year to date and the 12 month rolling data are still positive.

There were some good signs in Grand Forks. Some are worried about the Canadian dollars relation to the U.S. dollar not attracting Canadian traffic, but the motel rooms and the restaurant and lounge quarter cent sales tax don’t support that theory, at least up to this point. Again this month I don’t have all the motel tax I want, but what we do have suggests traffic is at least as good as last year.

Grand Forks need to remember also that they should just not rely on Canadian Traffic. Now with all those new good class motels that the Convention and Visitors Bureau needs to work with places like the golf courses, the curling clubs, baseball clubs, etc to attract people to this city all year round. They can’t just wait for the Canadians. The Chamber and the CVB, which has always done a good job, need to be even more aggressive. The taxpayers of this city with the facilities like Aurora, and the University have all done a lot to attract people. Now they just need to be even more aggressive.

So, for now lets see if the city goes after those things. Lets also see if the oil patch business that has come from here stays here. There is no reason that done properly that won’t be case. There is no reason to let it go to others. It is time for some to earn their pay.


Well the first half is done and it appears I was right about that. There was not much movement from a month ago. Some up a little. Some down a little. Not enough of any magnitude to tell us what to expect. Now, hold onto your seats.

Of course like any good economist I have to give myself a little cover. It is certainly possible we won’t see much in another month, especially if this cold weather sticks around and no one wants to get excited about the coming year, especially if we are only going to not have any shocking news in the around the world.

Anyway, I have expanded the report some this month. Not only am I showing what has happened in the past month, but also the changes from a year ago. That is interesting, to put it kindly. What it shows is just how much crop prices have declined in the past year. Again, thank you Harold Hamm. If we don’t realize how much this means, the new oil extraction technology I mean, well we are really stupid. It will take some time to get all the reports, but by Christmas we should be able to come up with some pretty accurate data of just how deep a hole we would have in our state if it wasn’t for what this man and others have handed us.

I will do my best to keep working on this and show you just what this means compared to these changes in the past. Keep reading.

One final comment, note how on a couple of crop categories that in order to not show individual income we can not report the prices because of the crop concentration. I am a capitalist, but this concentration is not capitalism, and it is not good for society.

I have tried to keep politics out of these reports, but we need to examine this change and its effects on the culture we are part of.

More on that later.


Here are two new reports.First is the North Dakota General Fund Revenues and Transfers for the biennium through December.

Below that is the city sales tax reports. It is in detail for Grand Forks, and then compares several of the major cities in the state. The sales taxes are for the checks the cities received on February 15th.

So, to begin, the state report:

We are now one-fourth of the way through the biennium and the collections are nearly 20 per cent ahead of last biennium’s revenues. Also, revenue is about 9 percent ahead of the projections the state bought. That doesn’t sound too bad, but the devil is in the detail.

In this case, major special fund transfers are already at their limit and so do not add to the error. Actually the three major funds we really need to look at are sales tax, individual income tax and corporate income tax.

The sales tax collections are only a short four percent over projections. That is certainly within expectations. Where the projections are really off is in both the individual and corporate income taxes, about 50 percent for both, and that is too much. If this keeps up the Governor and legislature will need to come into the session with a plan of what to do with the extra money. Of course if the ag economy turns out much worse than most of us expect we may be happy to have this money.

If a special session occurs that too may change everything. Because of all the problems I don’t expect that. In the meantime, you and I can only see what the leaders decide.


Life in North Dakota is changing, and if you don’t believe that just look at the sales taxes across the state.

It doesn’t mean the oil boom has turned into a bust. Far from it, but it does mean that the wild days, the boomtown philosophy, the days of anything goes are gone. Instead, the days of organized growth, of building the infrastructure this dramatic change in North Dakota will take has begun like any good capitalist system requires.

There is, to me anyway, something peculiar about that nearly 50 percent increase in sales taxes for Fargo. I can only expect it has something to do with reporting, not that there hasn’t been growth at least as good as the averages around the state, and probably better, but not that much.

By the same token, there is nothing shocking, or scary about the decline in the sales tax in Williston. It is only a maturing of the oil patch exploration. Williston’s loss is Dickinson’s gain. Good for both of them. It certainly will be. There is not another area in the United States that wouldn’t trade places with either of them.

Anyway, it is early in the year and we are still in a tough winter, not only in North Dakota, but across the northern plains. Given the reality of the situation we still have a nice economy.

To me, the thing we need to watch is what I think will be a significant decline in the agricultural economy. Again, I don’t necessarily mean trouble, but these past few years have been about as good as farming has ever been, and those times are over, or so I think.

If you don’t have doubts, just ask the sugar beet farmers, and the corn farmers especially. It will be late in the year before we see the results, but the mainstream press will be using some new words to describe the quarterly sales tax and monthly state revenue reports.

By the way, I don’t have the Grand Forks motel assessments yet. I expect them soon and will report them as soon as I get them.