Measure 4 Is No Power Grab But Rather Common Sense Reform For Initiated Measures

Fargo Forum reporter Mike Nowtazki has a profile of Measure 4 up today, and this oft-overlooked constitutional amendment is framed as being a “power grab” and a limit on the people’s ability to hold the Legislature accountable.

But anyone familiar with the actual language of the measure knows it is neither.

“I think it’s an attempted power grab by the Legislature that’s completely unjustified,” Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider told Nowtazki of the measure.

“We agree that it’s bad in principle to use ballot measures to spend money and grow government,” said Dustin Gawrylow of the North Dakota Watchdog Network. “But we also think the genuine purpose of ballot measures is to be able to limit and restrain the Legislature, and this measure takes away the people’s ability [to do that].”

Here’s what Measure 4 actually does (full text here):

First, all ballot measures having a significant fiscal impact must be voted on in the November election.

Second, any measures directing the Legislature to appropriate funds must be in statute, not the constitution. Measure 4 would not allow for the constitution to be amended with spending measures.

It’s hard to imagine why either of these provisions would be considered controversial. I think most would agree that significant spending measures should be debated on the November ballot, as opposed to the June ballot, as the later vote gets far more scrutiny.

As for prohibiting spending measures in the state constitution, nothing in Measure 4 would prohibit such measures from being placed in statute. A person could still start a petition to direct the Legislature to spend a whole bunch of money on conservation or daycare centers or whatever other issue you could imagine. The petition just couldn’t put those sort of spending mandates in the state constitution.

Which makes sense. The constitution is for establishing the rights of the people, and the framework of government. Policy should be left to statute.

Calling this a “power grab” or some sort of an usurpation of the people’s right to hold the Legislature accountable is ridiculous. The people would still have the ability to refer for repeal laws passed by the Legislature. They’d still be able to legislate at the ballot box. They could still start petitions to amend the constitution, as long as those amendments aren’t spending mandates.

Measure 4 is sound policy, and much-needed as special interests looking to dip their hands in North Dakota’s pot of gold look at the initiated measure process as a means to an end.

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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