DUSTIN GAWRYLOW: No on Measure 4 | Proposal would prevent tax-cut as well as spending amendments in N.D.

MANDAN, N.D. -- If there was an organized opposition to Measure 4, its message would be quite simple: "The Legislature does not trust you and wants to take your power away. So, if you think the Legislature deserves more power, go ahead and vote y...

Dustin Gawrylow

MANDAN, N.D. - If there was an organized opposition to Measure 4, its message would be quite simple: “The Legislature does not trust you and wants to take your power away. So, if you think the Legislature deserves more power, go ahead and vote yes on Measure 4.”

Supporters of Measure 4 will never tell you that if you vote Yes, you’ll no longer have a chance to vote for citizen-led constitutional measures relating to spending and taxes.

First, Measure 4 says that any ballot measure with a significant fiscal impact will be placed on the November ballot so that more people are voting on the decision. No one really thinks that is a bad thing, but the supporters of the measure often seem to forget to mention that’s not all it will do.

The second part of the measure, which is the real problem for North Dakotans, says that the public cannot initiate constitutional amendments that would either put appropriations into the constitution or require the Legislature to make an appropriation for a specific purpose.

As a conservative, I am opposed to the idea of spending public dollars using ballot measures. But I am fiercely opposed to the idea of locking citizens out of restraining the Legislatures’ revenue stream via the constitution.


When it comes to fiscal matters, the state looks at any proposal that takes money away from the state as the equivalent of proposals that spend money. This is an intellectually dishonest approach, but that’s another column.

The legislators who put Measure 4 on the ballot are trying to prevent citizens from bringing two types of ballot measures to the people for a vote. The first type is exemplified by Measure 5 on the November ballot, which would automatically allocate 5 percent of certain oil tax monies to a “conservation fund.”

And Measure 2 from June 2012 is an example of the second type. Measure 2, North Dakotans will recall, would have eliminated property taxes.

In other words, while it’s true that Measure 4 would prevent future proposals such as the conservation amendment from reaching the ballot, it also would prevent anyone who wants to eliminate the property tax, income tax, or sales tax from even being allowed to try.

There will be those who’ll say, “Don’t worry; Measure 4 won’t be used against tax cuts.” But it is important to remember that in a July 2013 edition of the Herald, House Republican Majority Leader Al Carlson all but said the intent of this law is to stop tax cuts as well as spending proposals.

Read for yourself:

“Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, proposed the resolution to provide ‘good business management of the state’s resources,’” the Forum News Service story reported.

“‘People have every opportunity to bring their measures forward,’ he (Carlson) said. ‘But when they have a large fiscal effect on the treasury, that should be in some way carefully handled.’


“For instance, he said, had the 2012 measure to abolish property taxes passed, the state would have been required to cover about $800 million in property taxes.

“‘We would have been in special session the next day to raise people’s taxes,’ he said.”

Majority Leader Carlson showed his cards early with these quotes. And as a result, if Measure 4 passes, then any new measures that would require the Legislature to appropriate money (as Carlson describes) won’t be allowed on the ballot.

In a republican form of government, our elected officials operate on the “consent of the governed.” While many people do not think that direct democracy is always good, the one thing it is good for is setting the terms and conditions for our elected officials to operate.

When our elected officials ask us to reduce and restrain our own future ability to set the terms they operate within, it should be pretty clear that it is a bad idea. It amounts to voting away our rights.

Measure 4 was sold and is being marketed as a way to stop the ballot box from being used to spend taxpayer money. But if it also restricts taxpayers’ ability to permanently reduce their tax burden, it’s not worth the trade.

We should not create obstacles that prevent taxpayers from setting the revenue terms under which the Legislature operates.

I would encourage anyone looking for more information to visit and read our full-length analysis of this and other ballot issues, or to call our office and leave a message requesting more information.


Gawrylow is the managing director of the North Dakota Watchdog Network.

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