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Posted 10/07/14 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editror
One of the most contentious ballot issues facing North Dakota voters in the upcoming November General Election is Measure No. 5. The proposed constitutional amendment, if passed by the state’s citizens, would create a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Trust that would be funded by dedicating five percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax to help fund conservation projects statewide.
At the onset, who can argue against the need for conservation projects, parks and recreation. All of these only enhance the quality of life for state residents.
But the big caveat to Measure No. 5 is that it will redirect a huge sum of state revenue toward meeting just the needs of one special interest group. And there is a very long list of North Dakotans who think that usurping the state’s needs to meet the needs of a special interest group is wrong.
And I agree, which is why I’m recommending a “No” vote on Measure No. 5.
Based on today’s oil production, state officials are estimating that five percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax would conservatively generate over $150 million a year, or $300 million for the biennium, into the new trust fund. That is a huge commitment of state resources. And considering the likelihood that the state’s oil production could very well double in the coming years, the amount of state money being diverted into this fund is astronomical.
Which brings up the serious question of just how would all that money be used? And more importantly, couldn’t those same dollars be spent for better purposes that would benefit all of the people of North Dakota.
Could you imagine what the cities and counties in the oil-producing region of the state could do with a guaranteed $150 million a year for the next 25 years? Maybe they could build the roads and streets to meet the demands being placed upon them by the oilfield. Maybe they could build the water and sewer lines that are needed to meet the housing and commercial development needs and get rid of the man camps and work force housing that have become a blight on the area. Maybe they could build the schools, the hospitals and the jails that are needed to meet the growing population.
Yes, the oil-producing counties, which are generating this money, has its needs for more money. But there are lots of other needs where that $150 million could make a difference to every state resident. It could be used to better educate our children. It could be used to lower taxes. It could be used for more Social Service programs. And the list of “it could be used for” is endless.
As I stated last week, budgeting at the ballot box is not a good way to manage the state’s money. We, as voters, elect legislators to handle the state’s finances and to determine how to spend the state’s money. When the electorate takes that financial control away from elected officials, only bad things will eventually happen.
While clean water, parks, recreation and conservation are projects worthy of support, there are already state agencies such as the State Water Commission, the state Parks & Recreation Dept. and the state Game & Fish Dept., as well as a host of federal and local agencies that are entrusted with taking care of our natural resources.
Measure No. 5 deserves a resounding “No” vote.