Why would a group spend nearly a million dollars to get an initiated measure on the November ballot? That's how much money was spent to gather the 41,000 signatures needed to get the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks measure onto the November ballot.
That's a lot of money to spend. Most initiated measures are grass roots efforts spurred by North Dakotans who are dissatisfied with an issue and want to influence a change. But grass roots efforts aren't really about raising large amounts of cash, they're about mobilizing and influencing others to voice their opinions and to go out and cast their votes.
Was this a true grass roots effort? Well, let's look at the sources of funding. The Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, and the World Wildlife Fund were some of the primary backers of this "grass roots" effort. And let's not forget Ducks Unlimited. They spent over $500,000 so far this year. So again I ask, why spend that much money? Is it really that they're so concerned about little old North Dakota's environment? Or is it an investment laid out in the hopes of earning a financial return?
If passed, this measure would commit 5 percent of North Dakota's oil extraction tax - an estimated $300 million per biennium - to a new conservation fund. And get this, the measure defines no clear rules as to how that money could be spent. The only real rule it specifies is that at least 75 percent of that money be spent each year. But spent on what?
To be frank, the groups that are backing this measure aren't really friendly to either of our state's major industries, energy or agriculture. So one has to wonder, how much of that money will they spend in an attempt to buy up land and take it out of production - either agricultural or energy production? And when they've managed to gobble up as much land as they can, what then are the economic drivers that will keep our state alive? And what would happen if the state's oil and gas industry takes a turn for the worse? Those of us who live in the western energy producing counties have seen it happen before. Well, because it would be a constitutional amendment, the fund would still have to be fully funded!
It's not as if North Dakota isn't already spending money on conservation. In fact, our state Legislature has committed $30 million for conservation projects under the Outdoor Heritage Fund during the 2013-15 biennium. Additionally, the state spends around $100 million annually on conservation, parks and recreation, and game and fish preservation projects.
The backers of this amendment are counting on their ability to prey on voter emotions. We are all environmentalists in one way or another. Who wouldn't support a measure that conserves the environment? But there's the rub - this measure isn't about conservation. It's about getting their hands on North Dakota's cold hard cash! Before you cast your vote on this important measure, please make sure you're aware of the facts.