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Carlson’s bill could give up to $50M to outdoor recreation

BISMARCK -- While criticizing a ballot measure that would divert millions of dollars in North Dakota oil tax revenue into a conservation fund, House Majority Leader Al Carlson said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would spend $30 ...

BISMARCK - While criticizing a ballot measure that would divert millions of dollars in North Dakota oil tax revenue into a conservation fund, House Majority Leader Al Carlson said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would spend $30 million to $50 million to enhance parks and other recreational opportunities.
Carlson, R-Fargo, mentioned the bill during a GOP luncheon Tuesday in Bismarck as an alternative to Measure 5, a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot. If approved, the measure will create a conservation fund and trust that would receive 5 percent of the state’s share of oil extraction tax revenue for the next 25 years.
“I think it’s a much better system to allow that to be through an agency that we control, instead of an unelected board that could have access to millions of dollars,” Carlson said of the bill he plans to introduce with Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan.
If approved, the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment will cost an estimated $308 million during its first 2½ years, according to the state Office of Management and Budget. At least 75 percent of the revenue deposited into the fund would have to be spent every year.
Carmen Miller, a Measure 5 spokeswoman and director of public policy for Ducks Unlimited’s regional office in Bismarck, said the Outdoor Heritage Fund grant program approved by lawmakers last year was a “really good start,” but a lot of applicants have walked away empty-handed. The fund is capped at $30 million for the 2013-2015 biennium.
“We think it’s great that the Legislature’s recognizing the need for additional resources for wildlife and parks,” she said of Carlson’s proposed bill. “Luckily, North Dakota voters have the opportunity to vote on this in November, so they don’t need to wait ‘til January.”
Carlson said the bill would provide money to the state Parks and Recreation Department to upgrade existing park facilities - but not to buy new park land, which he said isn’t available and would take land out of agricultural production. Measure 5 supporters say North Dakota and its growing population need more state parks, noting the department hasn’t added one since the 1980s.
The bill also would provide funds to the state Game and Fish Department to enhance the Private Land Open to Sportsmen program, or PLOTS, by paying landowners a higher rate for allowing hunting access on their land, Carlson said.
Carlson said Measure 5’s language is “convoluted,” and it would take dollars away from other needs such as water, schools, higher education and human services. Miller said North Dakota is adding new residents every day, and the measure will provide for quality-of-life infrastructure that will have a “huge impact” on the state’s future.

Nowatzki is a reporter for Forum News Service. Contact him at 701-255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com .

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