The North Dakota Senate today debated SCR4027, introduced by Senator Tyler Axness, which is a different version of legislation creating an outdoor heritage fund introduced by Rep. Todd Porter in the state House.
Conservation groups have been trying to kill Rep. Porter’s bill on the grounds that it doesn’t give them a large enough continuing appropriation – Rep. Porter responded by stripping those groups from the bill – and Senator Axness’ resolution is their preferred legislation.
But it went down on a 10-36 vote. Here’s video of the floor debate:
Both versions of this legislation would have the conservation fund getting a percentage of oil extraction and production tax revenues, but Rep. Porter’s bill would have capped the funds at $30 million per biennium. Senator Axness’ bill would set the cap at $200 million per biennium.
Axness’ bill would also allow for the state tax dollars to be used to buy up farm land, which is a major concern. Agriculture groups, rightly, were fearful of a situation where farmers and ranchers are competing to buy land with what amounts to a state agency armed with hundreds of millions of tax dollars.
Finally, there were also major concerns over enshrining such a large on-going appropriation in the state constitution.
From the sound of the debate, there’s a lot of support for passing Rep. Porter’s bill instead. The whole idea of creating a conservation slush fund to be spent by a board of special interests is a bad one regardless of how much money we’re talking about, but I would expect Rep. Porter’s bill to pass the Senate as a much less bad version of this idea.