DAVID HOGUE: Yes on Measure 4 | Stop special interests from embedding spending in constitution
MINOT -- Over the past eight years, an important and recurring question has been debated in the North Dakota Legislature: How can we as a state maintain our current unprecedented economic prosperity into the next biennium, decade or longer?...
MINOT - Over the past eight years, an important and recurring question has been debated in the North Dakota Legislature: How can we as a state maintain our current unprecedented economic prosperity into the next biennium, decade or longer?
How can we continue to build wealth and create jobs at rates not found anywhere else in the country and sustain that level of growth?
As policy makers, we understand that many external factors beyond our control shape our state economy. These factors include agricultural commodity prices, weather and the price of a barrel of sweet crude oil.
But are there factors bearing on our state economy that we can control and influence through appropriate policy choices?
The answer is a resounding yes. Measure 4 is such a policy choice.
Measure 4 was put on the November ballot by the 63rd Legislative Assembly to protect state revenues against diversion by out-of-state special interest groups.
Measure 4 would prohibit the practice of trying to put spending in our state constitution, so that the stream of spending is permanent and cannot be reviewed by the Legislature or other democratic processes. Look no further than the language of Measure 5, the outdoor wildlife measure, and the mission of the not-for-profit Ducks Unlimited organization, to understand why Measure 4 is necessary to protect our state economy against special interest poaching of state resources.
Ducks Unlimited, the principal financial supporter of Measure 5, proposes to spend a $150 million per year of state revenue on, among other things, creating “wildlife and fish habitat.” Regardless of how North Dakotans might feel about the amount our state currently spends on wildlife and fish habitat, Measure 5 is fairly labeled “radical” because it proposes to permanently embed this $150 million per year of spending into our state constitution.
Thus, each and every year, wildlife and fish habitat spending is Priority One, gets its allocation of state resources and must be spent, regardless of the future needs for education, flood control, roads and transportation infrastructure, property tax relief, oil impacts and health care.
Each year, Measure 5 would “wall off” its $150 million for conservation efforts and elevate its priority above all other state spending.
Why is this approach to state spending - permanently embedding spending in the state constitution - proposed in Measure 5, but prohibited by Measure 4, radical? Because it’s undemocratic and inflexible.
Think for a moment how government at every level - from the federal government down to the local school board - makes spending decisions. In nearly every case, democratically elected officials formulate budgets, identify priorities and formally vote how public resources should be spent.
For example, after the catastrophic flood events of 1997 and 2011, the North Dakota Legislature decided to spend more state resources on flood relief and prevention. As another example, when school populations in Oil Patch cities expanded beyond the local tax base, the Legislature decided to provide additional support to those local school districts.
Measure 4 would ensure this fundamental function of government - how we spend taxpayers’ money - remains protected from any group attempting to elevate and wall off its spending priority from the rest of the worthy recipients of state spending.
Protecting the democratic spending process is why North Dakotans should support Measure 4.
I have heard some critics complain that Measure 4 takes away the people’s prerogative to propose a spending measure through the initiated measure process. That is untrue. Under its explicit language, Measure 4 curtails only constitutional measures, not statutory measures.
If a group such as Ducks Unlimited believes it important to spend more on outdoor recreation, DU still can initiate a statutory measure to spend state resources. But DU strategically chose a constitutional spending amendment in Measure 5, precisely because it seeks to avoid legislative scrutiny, budget compromise and identifying spending priorities on an annual basis - all those tools used by democratic government at every level to make good spending decisions.
How we invest state revenues into education, roads and transportation infrastructure, water, flood protection, health care and property tax relief affects our long term prosperity. Measure 4 helps protect our prosperity by eliminating the ability of one special interest group to permanently elevate and isolate its spending priority by embedding that spending in the state constitution.
Measure 4 is proposed and supported by the North Dakota Legislature and deserves Herald readers’ support as well.
Hogue, a Republican, represents Minot in the North Dakota Senate. He was one of the legislative sponsors of Measure 4, the Referral and Initiative Reform Amendment.