Surprise: Conservation Measure Supporters Understated Cost By 75 Percent

If you were one of the North Dakotans approached by the supposedly “volunteer” signature collectors for the conservation measure (these “volunteers” were so expensive the group backing the measure spent at least $8 per signature collected), you were probably told that the measure would divert only a tiny amount of state tax revenues into a slush fund for conservation interests.

Their estimate, when pressed for specifics, was about $75 million per year. But as I pointed out previously, that estimate was based on oil production projections for the state that were woefully out of date.

Today the state got new projections for oil tax revenues and – surprise! – it turns out the conservation backers weren’t being honest.

According to Fargo Forum reporter Mike Nowtazki, the new forecast has the conservation fund (if approved by voters) getting $259 million in the next biennium. The number conservation supporters were throwing around was $150 million per biennium.

So they were only, like, 75 percent off:

If voters approve the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment, it will create a conservation fund and trust that will receive an estimated $49 million in the last six months of the 2013-15 biennium and $259 million in the 2015-17 biennium, according to an oil tax revenue forecast finalized Friday by the state Office of Management and Budget.

The fund and trust would receive 5 percent of the state’s share of oil extraction tax revenue for the next 25 years.

Opponents of the measure have warned that it would take $150 million per year in oil taxes away from other priorities, based on what they say are conservative projections for oil production and price.

Measure proponents have so far rested on a figure of up to $75 million a year – a number supplied by OMB based on the April 2013 legislative forecast for the current biennium – but have acknowledged it could go higher.

Setting aside the question of this measure as policy. One disturbing reality of this debate so far is that the measure’s proponents have a hard time being honest with the taxpayers.

Whether it was the petition fraud that kept this measure off the ballot in 2012, or the group playing fast and loose with the truth about using paid petitioners in this cycle, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of integrity on display.

That’s not a good sign for a group of people who want to create a massive slush fund of taxpayer dollars to be doled out to, well, them.

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.

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