Legislature swings, misses on HR 3055 vote

It really is a minor change and something likely to have broad public support.

Yet on Thursday, the North Dakota Senate gutted the bill.

House Concurrent Resolution 3055 wouldn’t have changed much. If passed it simply would have changed the automatic transfer of Legacy Fund earnings to the general fund to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to decide if money from earnings should be extracted (and later decided on what to spend) or to reinvest in the fund to subsequently massively increase the fund’s principal.

The voters of North Dakota would have to vote for the measure, having the final word if they liked the idea or not. That’s always a fine thing.

In lieu of the proposed bill or any of its versions of it acceptable to vocal supporters – including the need for a simple majority vote of the Legislature to extract Legacy Fund earnings – the North Dakota Senate gutted the proposition and effectively transformed it into a study of how Fund earnings should be spent.

Is there a reason the study couldn’t be included in other legislation? It isn’t as if 3055 at this time would effect spending decisions until at least 2021. Those who propose using Fund earnings to buy down and eventually eliminate the state income tax would still have support from the public and would likely win support for funds needed from earnings. The same is true of every other good idea (and bad) the Legislature might support.

With 3055, both good and bad would take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Politically it would put the Legislature on the record should the money extracted from Fund earnings be wasteful, unnecessary or in appropriate.

State Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks offered the most relatable analogy. So, if you have a 401(k). What’s the best option? To have earnings routinely deposited into your checking account and then you can decide how to spend them and how much to reinvest? Or put a “faucet” in place so you can turn on and off the flow of funds.

Under the rules established by voters in creating the Legacy Fund in 2010, interest earnings have been re-invested with the principal for the first six years. This biennium, earnings will automatically transfer to the general fund.

Typically, once money gets to a legislative body, that body will find a way to spend it.

Why not some planning and some accountability instead of just a pool of money? Reinvestment is a powerful argument for our children and their children.

Instead of separting the study from the initial proposal, which is reasonable, North Dakotans get – at this point – a study.

A study? In the language of politics, that’s akin to at best kicking the can down the road and at worst in this scenario, trying to keep money at their disposal to spend.

Perhaps our own Sen.Oley Larsen, R-Minot, said he can support use of Legacy earnings for infrastructure projects or scholarships but believes the state should re-invest some of the money. Larsen, who supported the original language in HCR 3055, voted against it as amended into a study.

“I think it’s a waste of time for government to just continue to be studying these things,” he said. “If it’s a good idea, let’s do the work.”

Well said, Sen. Larsen.

The House voted Friday afternoon and did not concur with the Senate’s amendments (which would’ve studied the Legacy Fund earnings instead of amending the constitution.) The resolution will go to conference committee next week with the hope that voters decide a constitutional amendment that requires legislative action to withdraw earnings from the Legacy Fund (could be two-thirds, simple majority… that could be be worked out.) and b) study the use of earnings during the interim.

Credit to Rep. Mock for his efforts.

A study? Perhaps our leaders are getting more like Congress than thought.