Legacy Fund management plan likely to meet defeat

BISMARCK – A proposal to require a legislative vote to move earnings out of the Legacy Fund appears on its way to the graveyard, according to the resolution’s sponsor.

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said the state Senate is likely to kill House Concurrent Resolution 3055 today rather than accept the House-supported version coming out of conference committee.

The conference committee voted Wednesday to recommend the House’s original language requiring a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to move Legacy earnings into the state general fund. Currently, earnings transfer automatically at the end of each biennium. Mock said the requirement for an active vote to move the money could lead to more earnings staying in the oil revenue fund to build the savings account balance. Earnings are projected at around $400 million this biennium.

Mock called the resolution’s fate disappointing, but he added he hopes it isn’t the end of the discussion.

“I firmly believe that we still need to keep the conversation alive about amending the constitution and requiring the Legislature to vote to spend any earnings rather than just having them automatically appear in our general fund,” Mock said.

The Senate had amended HCR 3055 into an interim study on how to spend earnings. The House rejected the amendments, sending HCR 3055 into conference.

At the initial conference committee, senators indicated they liked the concept of the House bill but were opposed to putting it on the ballot, Mock said. Changing the mechanism for moving earnings out of the Legacy Fund would be a constitutional change requiring voter approval. Voters established the Legacy Fund in the constitution in 2010.

The first conference committee passed a recommendation in support of the study resolution, and the House rejected the committee report 31-58, Mock said.

The House changed its conferees to include more supporters of the original resolution. Mock said he prepared an option that reduced the threshold for moving earnings to a majority vote, but the new conference committee recommended passage of the House version establishing the two-thirds vote.

Mock said he has drafted a proposal for a study of Legacy Fund spending that he will seek to include in the Office of Management and Budget bill if the Senate kills HCR 3055. A discussion on how the fund is managed could be part of that interim study, he said.

The House rightly saw the need for more engagement on Legacy Fund management, Mock said.

“We are disappointed that the Senate is not willing to set something before the voters,” he said. However, he added, “I am satisfied and impressed with the sheer amount of interest. This has been a great uniter of Republicans and Democrats.”

Mock said he hopes the momentum gained this legislative session will carry forward to eventually lead to adoption of the concept in HCR 3055.

“This is the right solution for North Dakota,” he said. “As much as a legislator hates to see a bill of theirs be defeated, this has never been about my bill or a bill I have been working on to pass or fail. This is about doing what’s right for North Dakota.”