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Measure for measure, number 5 October 28, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in societal commentary.
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I generally am not afraid to discuss politics in person, but I don’t do it often here.  I will discuss topics that can be politicized but seldom delve directly into politics, particularly of the local variety.  The reason is that I don’t want to irritate my neighbors.  However, in viewing my site stats, I’ve realized that only about a third of my readership hails from North Dakota.  The other two thirds are divided equally between Minnesota and New Zealand.  (When you only have three readers, it’s easy to divide up your blog readership quanta that way.)  Anyway, I’m pretty sure that my ND reader is a friend and has already heard this before.

The reason I feel compelled to write on this is the nonsense objections I’ve been seeing to Measure 5.  For those not familiar with it, it’s designed to take 5% of oil taxes to the state and set it aside for environmental projects.  Some of the money would go into a trust, but the rest of the money would be spent by the state Industrial Commission (yeah, the same folks who approve permits for oil wells) based on the recommendation of a panel of appointed citizens.

For the sake of disclosure, I am not a member of any of the groups that are backing the bill.  I am a member of one group opposed to the bill (the North Dakota Corn Growers Association).

I received an email from NDCGA describing the opposition arguments.  It said:

  1. Measure 5 mandates government spending – State government would be forced to spend $4.8 billion on conservation over the next 25 years, even if schools, roads, veterans programs, and other priorities need the money more.
  2. Measure 5 diverts funding for special interest priorities – Conservation spending will be put ahead of education, senior services, public safety, tax relief, and more. Do we want that?
  3. Measure 5 is driven by out-of-state interest groups – A full 96 percent of Measure 5’s funding comes from out-of-state interest groups that don’t know or care about what’s best for our state.
  4. Measure 5 offers no accountable spending plan – Measure 5 empowers an unelected, unaccountable advisory board to decide how North Dakota tax money is spent. Their definition of a “conservation program” could be using tax dollars to buy up land so hunters and farmers can’t use it.

Points 1 and 2 are worded for maximum effect, but they say similar things.  The biggest thing is that OMG, the government is going to spend money and not only is it going to spend money, it’s spending it on the wrong things!

First, I never have and still don’t understand why people think that government spending is a bad thing.  As long as the government is spending money to develop the resources to benefit the population it governs, then it’s simply doing it’s job.  No one ever told me, “Don’t spend money.”  They always told me to spend it wisely.  Therefore, I see this argument as just plain silly.  If you have a house, you must spend money to pay for repairs.  However, it’s also a good idea to work on keeping it updated because, as most people know, that money usually increases the market value of your home (at least in a good economy).  In my opinion, spending money on environmental development is the same thing: making a good investment in our state, one that will pay off, financially in terms of tourism and hunting and improved land for farming, later on.  Given the environmental mess in the western part of the state, I think that it is time to do something, and quickly.

The argument about prioritizing spending on the environment over other things is a red herring because the problem is not with the measure but our legislature.  It’s pretty obvious that the legislature doesn’t value environmental development over other things…it just doesn’t seem to value much development at all.  When all this oil money started rolling in, why didn’t the legislature start putting money into infrastructure that was badly needed in the western part of the state?  What happened to the special session they were going to call to deal with it?  There is the possibility they will do that in the next biennium, but it’s almost guaranteed that they won’t do anything for the environment, even if they do manage to find it within themselves to do something about the infrastructure mess out west.

The third point: it’s being driven by out of state interests!  Except that all of the money being spent will be under the advisement of the Industrial Commission.  Those out of state folks are asking us to give money to OUR OWN governing bodies and, with input from some of OUR OWN citizens, spend that money on our own state.  Yep, that’s what those evil folks out of state are pushing for.  Hello?!  This is the industrial commission we’re talking about.  Do you really think that the three people on the commission really are die-hard tree-huggers who want to save owls and pheasants above all else?  (Do you even know who is on the industrial commission?!)  If anything, I think it’s brilliant because you know they’re going to put the money in places that will hopefully both benefit the farmers and hunters and tourism in the state…while also helping the environment.  The industrial commission, if anything, has been far more likely to kowtow to out-of-state oil companies than the likes of the nature conservancy.  (ETA: if they’re so concerned about out-of-state interests, then the fact that over twice as much funding has come from Big Oil interests should be a big deal…but it’s not mentioned at all.)

The last point is a lot of scare-mongering.  Again, we’re talking about the industrial commission making the decision on how it’s spent.  Are they really going to take land out of production?  I think not.  Further, it is simply wrong because the state has laws to prevent this that were put in place to prevent large-scale corporate farming.  We’re protected on that front.  If anything, I’ve heard things about the possibility of a state-run CRP-style program, something that some of my own family members really liked.  There are also a lot of other possibilities on this front.  For one thing, maybe some of this money may go into funding research on more environmentally-friendly methods of farming.  I think the argument against this is that because they don’t know how the money is spent, it’s going to be spent to take our land away.  In reality, the way the money is spent is unrestricted and potentially allows for a lot of creative, synergystic activities between conservationists, farmers, and sportsmen.  That is really the point, isn’t it?  If we mandate spending now, how do we know that it will be appropriated to the right places ten years from now?

None of these arguments makes a lot of sense to me, and the opposition arguments strike me simply as a knee-jerk reaction to anything with the label “environmental.”  That’s sad because knee-jerk reactions don’t enable us to take care of business properly, and our state is desperately in need of some investment into its future.

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