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RALPH KINGSBURY COLUMN: Giving back power

It is time to give my comments about the North Dakota Legislature's taxing and spending policies a rest. We need to get to crossover before we can discern any direction in the Legislature's philosophy for this session. Crossover is the date when ...

It is time to give my comments about the North Dakota Legislature's taxing and spending policies a rest. We need to get to crossover before we can discern any direction in the Legislature's philosophy for this session. Crossover is the date when all the bills introduced in one house must be acted upon. If a bill is defeated, it dies there; although a similar bill may exist in the other house. Crossover occurs in February.

There is one bill I have been following that, while not directly economic in nature, is important to the economics of North Dakota. That is the Worker Safety Insurance bill that would put the power to govern what is generally referred to as workers compensation back in the hands of the governor.

For the past several years, based on legislation passed in a previous session, the so-called WSI has been completely independent of any elected government official, or body. The legislation setting up this independent authority tried to take a political hot potato out of games often played with politics and political appointments by setting up a totally independent body. The legislation made the board independent to the extent that the governing body even had the authority to appoint its own replacements.

Ed Schafer, who was the governor at that time, vetoed that bill. He argued that it was wrong to give up legislative and executive authority over any taxing authority. The Legislature overrode the governor's veto, and the bill became law.

I am sure anyone reading this column knows about the audits that have been highly critical of the WSI administration and the board's failure to address those criticisms. My reaction is that every objection Schafer raised was correct. What else could we expect to have happened with the way that authority was set up? To give the WSI its due, they took a system that was broken and at least made it solvent again.

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Beyond that, I can not believe that any legislative body was willing to give up the people's sovereignty to address what was essentially an administrative problem. For a body that is worried about overruling education officials on the number of school days, or when school starts, it is unbelievable that the Legislature would so willingly give up sovereignty.

That should have been the real issue. It would be the same if the elected park board set up a park administrative unit and gave them the property tax authority. Didn't these people understand the role of a democratically elected government?

Free trade

Maybe the WSI problem is what the state Legislature thought government was about. After all, over the last 20 or so years, our federal government has been doing the same thing in the areas of free trade. What has always disappointed me about the free trade agreements backed by both Republicans and Democrats, and both the administrative and legislative branches, is that in setting up the international courts, we gave up our sovereignty to an independent court system we did not control.

I believe in free trade as presented in its pure theoretical model. Who wouldn't once they understand it? But, after watching how it has been practiced since its serious inception I have to agree with Sen. Byron Dorgan when I hear him say that free trade must be predicated on fair trade.

I am sure that most readers are familiar with Dorgan's criticism of so-called free trade as it is currently practiced. We set high worker standards and wages but then allow sweatshop businesses to export their products to America in competition with our businesses that must meet the standards.

In the agricultural sector, we signed an agreement with Mexico that allowed more of their sugar products into the United States. At the same time they were to allow the U.S. to export corn sweeteners to Mexico. It was mostly on the basis of this agreement that the farmers built the huge and expensive corn sweetener plant in Wahpeton, N.D. Red River Valley farmers were preparing themselves to enter what was to be a free trade sweeteners market.

To this day, American-produced corn sweetener has not been allowed into Mexico. Our government has done nothing of substance to enforce Mexico's violation of the NAFTA agreement. The end result in the U.S. has been a huge overproduction and a crashing sweetener market. It has cost Red River Valley farmers huge investment losses.

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That is what happens when we give up our sovereignty.

Kingsbury writes a weekly column on the local economy. He can be reached at kae@invisimax.com or (701) 738-0028.

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