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Omdahl: Measure 5 rigged against conservation groups

By Staff | Sep 26, 2014

Measure 5 on the November ballot is a proposed amendment to the state constitution dedicating 5 percent of the 6.5 percent oil extraction tax to “clean water, lands and outdoor heritage.”

Even though conservation groups are sponsoring the proposal, they will have limited influence in the use of the $125 million that is supposed to be available annually, meaning that most of the criticism of the measure we have been hearing is groundless.

Let’s look at the politics of the governing structure proposed in the measure.

First of all, there is a 13-member committee choosing proposals for funding. This committee will be loaded with members who will be opposed or skeptical of the whole program.

Governor Jack Dalrymple will appoint six members, four on recommendations from the Director of Game and Fish and two on recommendation from the Director of Parks and Recreation .

Since the governor appoints both of these department heads, he will be consulting with them in advance until he gets nominations to his liking. And, knowing who the boss is, they will comply. Considering his track record, these appointees will not necessarily be enthusiastically for the program.

The president pro tem of the Senate and the speaker of the House will each appoint one Republican and one Democrat. Considering the behavior of the last two legislative sessions, they will appoint members critical of the program.

The Public Service Commission will appoint one energy representative and the Agriculture Commissioner will appoint a farmer or rancher. Neither of these appointees can be expected to be friendly. The 13th member will be appointed by the Indian Affairs Commission.

In summary, the committee will be loaded with skepticism, if not hostility.

But the matter doesn’t end there. This 13-member committee will recommend programs to a commission consisting of Governor Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

This commission of elected officials will govern the fund, receive all legislative appropriations, employ the staff, and make all of the final decisions. Because this commission will have absolute control of the program, the fears expressed by opponents of the measure are unfounded.

The governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner will not permit the annual purchase of 25 farms; they will not tolerate purchases that would drive up land prices; they are not going to let anyone line pockets.

They are elected home-state officials and not out-of-state carpetbaggers; they will not permit corruption in the program; they will not be spending money needed for schools or other programs.

All of this being said, the proposal has some serious flaws. First, conservation groups will probably have too little to say about the program. Second, it puts legislative material in the constitution. Third, it commits a significant amount of money for 25 years.

These so-called flaws exist because the folks committed to clean water, parks and outdoor heritage correctly feel that a constitutional amendment is the only avenue available to guarantee a higher priority for these programs.

Considering the makeup of the advisory committee and the 3-member commission, 75 percent of the appropriation may not be spent each year as the measure requires. There will be considerable foot-dragging, stonewalling and obfuscation. Enforcement of the mandate will be a legal question.

Because of the strong orchestrated negative campaign, Measure 5 will be defeated at the polls. However, a strong “yes” vote would send a message to the Legislature that clean water, parks and the outdoors are North Dakota priorities that deserve more favorable consideration in the future.

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