House Passes Amendment Forcing "Major" Spending Measures To General Election Ballot


In 2014 one of the eight (!!!) ballot measures North Dakotans voted on was Measure 4, a constitutional amendment passed by the Legislature which did two things. First, it required that measures with a significant fiscal impact be placed on the general election ballot. Second, it prohibited constitutional amendments which would require the legislature to make an appropriation for a specific purpose.

That seemed liked reasonable policy to me – we shouldn’t be putting spending policy in our state constitution – but more than 56 percent of voters cast their ballots against it.

Now the lawmaker who sponsored the legislation which led to Measure 4 in 2014 – House Majority Leader Al Carlson – is trying to put at least one part back on the ballot again, and it appears as though he’s succeeded. HCR3047 in its original form would have required that any ballot measure determined to have a fiscal impact of greater than $20 million be put on the general election ballot. The idea is that the measures with the biggest impact on the state’s finances should get the maximum amount of scrutiny from voters.

But the resolution as amended in conference committee and adopted by the state House today is now back to pretty much the same language that was in Measure 4. You can read it here, but pretty much any measure having a “major” fiscal impact as defined by law (meaning it’s up to the Legislature to define what “major” is) shall go on the general election ballot.

The measure passed with flying colors on a 71-18 vote. Only Rep. Gail Mooney (D-Grand Forks) spoke against it.

“I have a major problem with this verbiage,” she said. “I don’t think we should put this language out there which allows for future legislatures to decide what major is.”

Frankly, I’d be just fine if the Legislature gutted the initiated measure process. I was once an enthusiastic supporter and even participant in the process, but I’ve lost faith in the wisdom of letting the mob┬álegislate at the ballot box. For every good measure that would result in sound policy it seems there’s a dozen that are terrible.

I say give the voters a veto – allow them to refer policies passed by the Legislature to the ballot when they object – but leave the legislating to the legislators. We elect these people for a reason.