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Peterson: Better ways to support conservation than proposed measure

By Andy Peterson

Guest Columnist

I agree with the statement in the recent editorial by The Forum newspaper, “Proposed Measure Draws Fire,” that next year’s Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund ballot measure could be “one of the most contentious, hard fought and expensive” debates in our state’s history. However, this is where my agreement ends.

There is every reason to believe the supporters of this measure will be the same as those behind the failed effort to get it on the ballot in 2012. The financial support for that measure came predominantly from out-of-state special interest groups, many with agendas that do not reflect mainstream North Dakota values. A report filed with the Secretary of State’s office showed nearly $700,000 in contributions in 2012, with 95 percent of that amount coming from outside the state.

In the editorial, the statement that “apparently, the influence of out-of-state energy companies and executives is acceptable” for those opposing this measure misses the mark. These companies are providing all kinds of jobs in the state and are one of the main sources of the tax revenue that this measure’s supporters want to divert through a constitutional amendment.

The only other industry in North Dakota that is larger than energy is agriculture and many farming and ranching organizations are among the most vocal opponents of this measure. North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers could hardly be called out-of-state interests.

You also state that the group opposing this measure, North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, is using a term — common sense — that has been used “so often in the past few years that it’s morphing into a punch line.”

I don’t believe it’s a punch line to be opposed to a measure that would make it part of our state’s constitution to commit 5 percent of North Dakota’s oil extraction tax, conservatively estimated at $200 million a biennium — that’s $2 million a week — to a new fund with no clear idea of how it would be spent.

I don’t believe it’s a punch line to be opposed to a measure that would divert billions of dollars of state funding that could otherwise be spent on education, infrastructure, tax relief, emergency services and more.

I don’t believe it’s a punch line to be concerned about voting into our constitution a first-ever amendment to mandate spending on specific wants. And why not then also do that for other equally important areas like education, transportation and health and human services?

I don’t believe it’s a punch line to be concerned that any changes to this constitutional amendment could only be corrected by another statewide vote.

There are better ways to support conservation programs than through this proposed constitutional amendment that would burden our state with unnecessary mandated spending that should be directed to other priorities in our state.

Peterson is the president of the Greater North Dakota Chamber.