How You Should Probably Vote: No On Measure 5

By popular request, I’m working my way through the ballot measures explaining each one and how I’m voting. I’m going in order, Measures 1-8. You can see my previous posts here.

The last measure I wrote about was Measure 4, which would reform the initiated measure process to a) require that major fiscal changes get a vote on the general election ballot and b) no spending measures be put in the state constitution.

What Measure 5 does (read the text here) is create a trust fund for conservation with 5 percent of the state’s oil tax revenues. The fund would be overseen by an appointed board, and grants out of it would have to be approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission (the Governor, the Attorney General and the Ag Commissioner). But these people would have to abide by a mandate in the amendment to spend 75 percent of the funds every year.

It works out to roughly $300 million per biennium based on oil production projections, which would make the de facto state agency this amendment would create about the 6th largest in the state. We’re talking about diverting more money than North Dakota State University gets.

I can say that, as a long-time supporter of the initiated measure process, Measure 5 is what made me support Measure 4. In fact, Measure 5 represents to me such an egregious abuse of the initiated measure process – big-money interests buying their way onto the ballot for a chance to put their hands in North Dakota’s pot of gold – that I find myself soured on the whole idea of legislating at the ballot box.

The history of this measure explains why.

Initially, supporters of Measure 5 had hoped to get it on the 2012 ballot. They had filed signatures, but when Secretary of State Al Jaeger found that many of them were fraudulent, it was kept off the ballot.

Had it made the ballot that cycle, opponents would have had just 60 days to organize and campaign against it. Given that opponents of Measure 5 told me the “yes” vote was polling near 70 percent earlier this year (it’s much lower now, and I think it’s going to fail), if this had been on the ballot in 2012 it would have passed.

It’s frightening to think that we could have made such a radical change to our state constitution, diverting a huge amount of money from other interests, on such a short timeline.

Measure 5 is terrible policy. It could put North Dakota in an awful financial position. But everyone likes the idea of “clean water” and “clean parks,” and voters who haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the ramifications of creating a massive funding/spending obligation in the state constitution.

This is why important issues like this shouldn’t be settled at the ballot box – where the whims of weather and other factor can impact turnout – but rather through rigors of the legislative process.

Vote no on 5, and in future, let’s be very skeptical of what we put on the ballot.

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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