To Ease Budget Pain North Dakota Lawmakers Should Shut Down BreatheND

This afternoon Governor Jack Dalrymple is expected to call lawmakers back to Bismarck to address revenue shortfalls in the state budget.

This is an extraordinary step demonstrative of the extraordinary fiscal position the state finds itself in. During the special session lawmakers will do some re-jiggering in the budget to get the state through the end of the current biennium on June 30 of next year. But the budget situation demands longer-term solutions than that.

So here’s one that should be on the table for lawmakers when they begin their regular session in January: Let’s get rid of our ridiculous and redundant anti-tobacco advocacy agency.

The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy – you know them as BreatheND from their preachy, condescending advertising campaigns – was created by North Dakota voters on the 2008 ballot.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]According to the Office of Management and Budget’s appropriations book for the 2015-2017 biennium, BreatheND is projected to have a more than $56 million ending balance.[/mks_pullquote]

Voters were told that they’d be casting their ballots for using the state’s share of national tobacco settlement dollars for tobacco cessation programs. Would they didn’t realize is that they’d be creating an anti-tobacco political advocacy group in the state government. A cushy employment opportunity for blinkered political activists which is slowly creeping its mission into fighting vaping.

Something that has nothing to do with tobacco and, ironically, seems to be contributing to reduced tobacco use.

In North Dakota seven years must pass before lawmakers may modify legislation passed by voters at the ballot box. The 2017 legislative session will be the first opportunity lawmakers have to reform, and perhaps even eliminate, BeatheND.

What’s more, 2017 is the last year of the tobacco settlement payments, and BreatheND has been stockpiling their funds. According to the Office of Management and Budget’s appropriations book for the 2015-2017 biennium, BreatheND is projected to have a more than $56 million ending balance. Unlike many of the state’s revenue projections, that one is probably accurate given that the source of the revenues is little impacted by crop or oil prices.

This is low hanging fruit for lawmakers hoping to ease the transition from boom-era revenues to the post-boom “new normal.” In fact, there may be no easier way for lawmakers to find tens of millions of dollars to fill holes elsewhere in the state budget.

We don’t need BreatheND to tell us that tobacco is bad for us – that knowledge has saturated the public consciousness – nor do we need a redundant health agency.

We already have a Department of Health.

Lawmakers should close down BreatheND and use its funds to shore up more needful areas of the budget. If there are programs or initiatives BreatheND is responsible for which are necessary to carry on – doubtful, but we can debate it – that policy can be transferred to the Department of Health where it will no doubt be managed more efficiently.

Creating BreatheND was a mistake. Political advocacy doesn’t belong in state government. In 2017 we have the opportunity to both unmake that mistake and ease some budget pain. And if the BreatheND activists don’t like it, they’re free to create a private group funded with private dollars and continue their advocacy.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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