Democrats Accuse Republicans Of "Broken Promise" On Conservation Funding

For the past couple of years conservation activists pushing to create a tax dollar slush fund for themselves have had Republican lawmakers trying to stay ahead of them with knee-jerk policy making. During the 2013 session, after conservation activists failed to get a constitutional amendment on the state ballot due to petition fraud, lawmakers created the Outdoor Heritage Fund capped at $15 million per year ($30 million per biennium) with revenues coming from a 4 percent share of 1 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax. The OHF is overseen by the State Industrial Commission and is empowered to make grants to qualifying conservation and outdoors projects.

Conservation activists, not satisfied with that amount of money, pushed ahead with another stab at a constitutional measure. They got the signatures and put Measure 5 on the statewide ballot where it failed. Miserably. But before it flopped, Governor Jack Dalrymple made a promise (no doubt aimed at defraying some of the support for Measure 5) to increase funding for the existing OHF bumping its biennial cap from $30 million to $50 million.

Democrats accused Republicans of breaking a promise. Senator Tyler Axness (D-Fargo) said the amendment to the bill was “a long line of broken promises” made by Republicans on conservation. “We shouldn’t be making promises that we do not intend to keep.”

Flash forward to the 2015 legislative session. The House passed HB1409 which increased the OHF cap to $40 million (about $10 million short of what Dalrymple called for) and increased the fund’s revenue stream from 4 percent of 1 percent of the extraction tax to 8 percent.

But today the Senate cut back on what the House increased. They moved the cap back down to $30 million, and decreased the percentage share to 6 percent of 1 percent. Meaning that the fund has the same cap, but the larger percentage will “allow the bucket to fill up faster,” to quote Senator Don Schaible.

Democrats accused Republicans of breaking a promise. Senator Tyler Axness (D-Fargo) said the amendment to the bill was “a long line of broken promises” made by Republicans on conservation.

“We shouldn’t be making promises that we do not intend to keep.”

The problem with that argument is it isn’t at all clear that North Dakotans even want this fund. Despite conservation activists spending millions on a vigorous campaign for Measure 5 it barely garnered 20 percent of the vote.

Forget increasing funding for the Outdoor Heritage Fund. The Legislature really ought to be thinking about ending the fund. It was created as a way to get out in front of the demands for such a fund from conservation activists, but given the reaction from voters, I don’t think the state needs or wants that fund.

If there are conservation out outdoor projects in need of funding, let the Legislature debate prudent appropriations. But a continuing appropriation to a conservation fund remains the same sort of bad policy it was in 2013 when the fund was created.

The changes to HB1409 will have to be negotiated in the House, but I don’t see much opposition from that chamber to the changes made in the Senate. The conservation activists really bungled with Measure 5, and their cries for funding aren’t going to get much sympath in the Legislature any time soon.

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.

Related posts

Top