Measure 4 on the statewide ballot would amend the state constitution with a couple of reforms of the initiated measure process. Today the Fargo Forum editorial board issued a “leafy spurge” to supporters of the measure, but their argument makes me wonder if they’ve even bothered to read it.
To legislative backers of North Dakota Measure 4, including Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, and Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who are determined to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for North Dakotans to refer and initiate laws or place constitutional amendments on the ballot. Hogue and company are advancing a cynical ploy: That when a measure is determined to have some sort of loosely defined effect on appropriations, it would not be eligible for the ballot. In other words, the power of the purse would rest rigidly and exclusively with the Legislature, thus ditching the long-standing referral right of citizens to either force lawmakers to spend a buck or to stop spending a buck. “Not a power grab,” say legislators who put Measure 4 on the ballot. That’s not true.
What’s not true is the Forum’s description of Measure 4.
What Measure 4 does (read the text here) is two things:
First” “A measure determined to have a significant fiscal impact must be voted on at a general election.” The means by which the fiscal impact of a given ballot measure would be measured would be established by the Legislature.
Second, “If a petition to initiate a constitutional amendment would make a direct appropriation of public funds for a specific purpose or would require the legislative assembly to appropriate funds for a specific purpose, the petition may not be approved for circulation.”
What this means is that a proposed amendment to the constitution – not, mind you, a statutory amendment – could not be put on the ballot through the petitioning process if it directs the Legislature to appropriate money.
The Forum would have us believe that no spending measures could be placed on the ballot. That’s simply not true. No “significant” spending measure could be placed on the June ballot. They’d have to go on the November ballot, with the idea being that the November ballot gets the maximum amount of scrutiny. Thus, big spending decisions should be decided then and not in June when voter turnout is much smaller.
And while Measure 4 would prohibit spending measures in the state constitution, it would not prohibit them in statute. Meaning that you could absolutely put a measure on the ballot to force the Legislature to appropriate money by statute. Just not by constitutional amendment.
Personally, I think that makes sense. The state constitution should be for broad statements of rights, and the framework of government. Spending policy should be in statute.
Of course, some disagree, and that’s fine. But if the Forum is going to come out against Measure 4, they could at least get the facts right.