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Other views: Proposed measure draws fire

If all the pieces fall into place in a few months, North Dakotans can count on witnessing one of the most contentious, hard-fought and expensive constitutional ballot measure debates in the state’s history. The sides are lining up. Money to finance competing campaigns is being raised. The drive to capture public opinion is underway.

And the measure is not yet on the ballot.

The proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Fund would jackpot 5 percent of revenue from the state’s oil extraction tax for a permanent outdoor heritage fund. The measure would establish in law an advisory board that would determine which projects to recommend for funding. Final decisions would be made by a commission made up of governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — the same makeup of the Industrial Commission, which oversees important segments of energy development. The revenue for distribution could be as much as $100 million a year.

The proposal (again, not yet on the ballot) has stirred early and impressive opposition from business and farm groups, led thus far by the Greater North Dakota Chamber. They object to establishing in the state constitution a mechanism that sidesteps the Legislature’s authority to legislate and appropriate. They say they don’t like the influence on state policy of out-of-state conservation organizations and like-minded individuals. (Apparently the influence by out-of-state energy companies and executives is acceptable.) They believe the statutory outdoor fund established by the 2013 Legislature, and other monies now spent for parks and outdoor venues, are sufficient.

Those are among the talking points from the group calling itself North Dakotans for Common Sense. (North Dakotans have called up the “common sense” mantra so often in the past few years that it’s morphing into a punch line.)

On the other side, a coalition of conservation, environmental and outdoor organizations — national, state and local — are gathering signatures to place the measure on the November 2014 ballot, and rounding up resources for what they expect will be an expensive campaign. They believe the fund OK’d by the Legislature is a pittance when compared to the need generated by the loss of Conservation Reserve Program acreage and the accelerating habitat degradation caused by energy development.

They also suggest that public sentiment as measured by polling on conservation and outdoor issues has tilted markedly toward more protection and preservation of land, water and the unique outdoor heritage of the state. They say a robust public fund can be the counterweight to the unprecedented and accelerating erosion of that heritage.

That’s the way it’s lining up. Ultimately North Dakotans will make the call at the polls. Their decision could determine the kind of North Dakota they leave their children and grandchildren.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.

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