Senate rejects Heritage Fund proposal

2013-03-11T17:03:00Z Senate rejects Heritage Fund proposal Bismarck Tribune

 

The North Dakota Senate rejected a resolution Monday that would have provided 4 percent of the state oil and gas production and extraction tax revenue for an Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 4027 died by a 36-10 vote following more than 15 minutes of debate.

Sen. Jessica Unruh, R-Beulah, said SCR4027 would have allowed for a maximum annual allocation of $100 million in oil tax revenue into the newly-created fund. Local political subdivisions would be able to apply for grant dollars for various conservation projects.

Projects would include the protection and maintenance of bodies of water, grasslands and forests. Funds also could be used for flood control, parks and recreation areas and for farmers and ranchers.

Oversight and distribution of funds would be the duty of a 10-member commission consisting of members of the legislative and executive branch. The commission would be able to purchase property and easements as permitted by state law, but not for litigation or lobbying.

“In committee a variety of concerns were expressed,” Unruh said.

Among the concerns were the ability of the commission to purchase land and the fact that it would build a $100 million item into the state constitution. Unruh urged her colleagues to vote against SCR4027.

Sen. Tyler Axness, D-Fargo, said he’d introduced SCR4027 after hearing from several constituents upset after a statewide conservation measure didn’t make the November 2012 ballot.

A constitutional measure similar to SCR4027 was removed from the 2012 general election ballot after more than 17,000 signatures were disqualified. Nearly a dozen paid petition circulators were charged in September with facilitating election fraud and filing false statements in gathering signatures for both the conservation measure and a medical marijuana initiative.

“I think it should be up to the people to determine what the landscape looks like,” Axness said.

Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott, said he also had concerns with how the fund would be set up in SCR4027.

“I see this as an acquisition of land,” Schaible said. “To me this is a bad way of doing a right idea.”

Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, said he didn’t agree with approach the fund in SCR4027 took to address conservation.

“It’s going into the Constitution where it doesn’t belong,” Hogue said.

Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, said up to $200 million per biennium for conservation was excessive given the massive infrastructure needs of the oil patch.

“We’ve got way bigger things to worry about in this state than this,” Bowman said.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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