Measure 5 on the November ballot would create a section of the North Dakota constitution diverting a big chunk of the state’s oil tax revenues into a conservation fund. It would also mandate that 75 percent of that fund be spent every year.
Given that North Dakota is now the second largest producer of oil in the United States, the amount of dollars Measure 5 would divert is enormous. Supporters of Measure 5 have tried to downplay the amount of money – they got caught using out-of-date oil production numbers to understate the amount by 75 percent – but there’s no denying the truth.
We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars per biennium diverted to this fund, with a mandate that most of it be spent whether that spending is needed or not.
Now the opponents of Measure 5 – a coalition just about every business, agriculture, and energy group in the state called North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation – are trying to put that amount into perspective. They’re claiming the measure would create the 6th largest agency in the state.
“The new conservation fund created if Measure 5 passes would be the sixth highest-funded agency in the state, based on General Fund Appropriations for the 2013-15 Biennium,” reads a press release from the group. “The fund would have received $205.8 million if it existed during the current biennium; North Dakota State University received $171 million.”
“The Highway Patrol and the Department of Health received a combined $93.6 million. Measure 5’s funding would be more than twice that amount,” Jon Godfread, a spokesman for the group, is quoted as saying in the release. “That’s not how we support our quality of life.”
They show their math below, ranking the state agencies by appropriation with the conservation fund (if it had existed this biennium) highlighted in yellow. Also highlighted is the conservation fund the Legislature did create last year, called the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
This may be the strongest argument against this measure. Whatever your stance on conservation, it’s a little hard to stomach just how much money would be involved.