Measure 1 -- Legacy Fund
North Dakota's oil resources are being tapped. The sweet crude from the Bakken Formation has brought an expected $1 billion budget surplus on June 30, 2011. The state's present financial circumstances are much better than solid, we are, excuse the vernacular, rolling in it.
So here's the choice: Spend it now or save at least part of it for the future.
The Tribune says, "Save a good chunk of it." And that's what supporters of the North Dakota Legacy Fund -- Measure No. 1 on the general election ballot -- want.
Measure 1 amends the state constitution and requires 30 percent of the total revenue from taxes on oil and gas production and extraction be placed in the Legacy Fund. It could not be tapped until June 30, 2017. It would take a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the Legislature to spend any of the principle, and no more than 15 percent of the principle could be expended in any biennium.. The earnings of the fund would go into the general fund at the end of each biennium.
The ballot measure leaves in place existing demands on state oil and gas revenues, including impact grants, direct revenue allocations to political subdivisions and funds for oil and gas research. The North Dakota attorney general has written that the measure would not directly interfere with these existing demands, although the Legislature might have to adjust these "statutory" amounts to ensure the "constitutional" requirements of the measure.
It might sound complicated, but it really isn't.
Could it be simpler and easier? Yes. However, coming up with a Plan B before the money is gone might be wishful thinking.
No, do it now.
We have been assured the state will have the funds to set aside savings in the Legacy Fund and still fulfill its other commitments made on behalf oil and gas tax revenues. Passing this initiated measure will not hurt the Legislature's ability to fund basic state needs. The measure would make spending money from the Legacy Fund difficult but not impossible. It's a savings program for the state.
There are those who wish to spend now, investing in the future. Unfortunately, that path leads to spending patterns that require more and more revenue, to the point that the state might not be able to sustain the spending without increasing taxes.
The case for a "yes" vote on Measure 1 is that it's better to save for the future.
Measure 2 -- Captive Hunting
If North Dakotans are opposed to corporate farming and in favor of using the National Grasslands to support ranching culture in western North Dakota, which our laws and policies suggest is the case, then to be consistent we should oppose captive hunting.
The state has legislated against corporate farming, because of a strong belief in the concept of family farms. It supports a way of life fundamental to North Dakotas development. The state supports ranchers in their agreements with the federal government to lease range from the National Grasslands because of a popular belief in the ranching culture that grew up with the state. It, too, is a way of life.
North Dakotans are equally engaged in the hunting culture. And that incudes the ideas of sportsmanship and public ownership of wild game that took hold in this country after the arrival of early immigrants from countries where land-owning classes controlled hunting. Captive hunting isn't an issue of class in North Dakota today, but the fair-chase cause reverberates with democratic principles.
Although the issue isn't really so sensational, at the core many North Dakotan find shooting confined animals in the name of "sport" repugnant. And, yes, that's despite growing up on farms and ranches where livestock are killed in the butchering process.
North Dakotan have historically been protective of individual property rights. But when it comes to a choice between those rights and public hunting and sportsmanship, the state's residents are willing to release their tight hold on property rights.
The writers of this measure have not been unreasonable. They have been careful to give existing captive hunting operations plenty of lead time if the measure passes.
The Tribune endorses a "yes" vote on Measure 2, in support of fair chase.