I suppose it was foolish of me to believe the governor and state Legislature could be convinced to approach the use of the Legacy Fund, improved fund earnings and surging oil revenues strategically.
With money burning a hole in their pocket, and with a newfound billion-dollar windfall, caution and frugality are not words or values in vogue at the state Capitol these days.
Most of the aforementioned elected officials are of the mind-set that far more votes are won not by touting a frugal, thoughtful, conservative approach, but by listing all the "gifts" they’ve given us.
Not to say that all the gifts in their shopping cart are bad gifts; on the contrary, some are great gifts, while others are good gifts, but perhaps ill-fitting.
"Operation Prairie Dog" is an example of a bad gift.
You will recall that "Operation Prairie Dog" gives several hundred million dollars to cities and counties to pay for infrastructure. Never mind that well-run cities and counties are supposed to do that with local taxes.
Of course, not all cities or counties are conservative, frugal or thoughtful strategic planners, and "Operation Prairie Dog" rewards that.
Gov. Doug Burgum’s UAS infrastructure proposal is an example of a great gift.
Seizing on North Dakota’s leadership role in unmanned aircraft systems, this gift would allow North Dakota to develop the nation’s only statewide network allowing drones to fly beyond "line of sight."
This would open a multitude of commercial opportunities and generate private investment, job opportunities and subject matter expertise in a field that is ready to explode with growth in areas such as data gathering for agriculture, flying pipeline routes looking for problems before they result in an environmental disaster, inspecting high-voltage transmission lines and wind turbines, to name a few.
The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library is perhaps the best example of a good gift, but perhaps one that is ill-fitting, i.e., the wrong size, or disproportionate to the need
This project reminds me of the home makeover show, which in its early years helped hundreds of deserving families remodel or repair their homes. They helped wounded veterans and families whose homes were flooded or damaged by fire.
But as the ratings declined it became Extreme Home Makeover. Every home was leveled and in their place they built McMansions. They built out buildings, workshops, barns, pools and even an office building or two.
The stories of the recipients were often heartbreaking and there is no doubt they were good, deserving people.
But we soon began to read news stories about those recipients, many of whom had to sell their homes because they could not afford the taxes and the maintenance.
Rather than step back and re-examine the strategy they doubled down. Soon they were not only handing over the keys to the estate but they were paying for college, paying off old mortgages and other debts, and even establishing accounts that would cover taxes and maintenance.
And then came the stories of those recipients, who in spite of everyone’s generosity and sacrifice, had sold their home and pocketed the cash. And what a shame for all those deserving families who could have benefited from the program if the show had not gotten carried away.
I support the TRPL, but the plan, as presented, may be ill-fitting. For $100 million, you can build a 268,000-square-foot Roughrider Center (Watford City) or the 274,000-square-foot Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
TRPL supporters throw out annual visitor numbers in the hundreds of thousands, but as this link, http://apps.chicagotribune.com/graphics/presidential-libraries-attendance/, illustrates, that is highly unlikely in a rural North Dakota village that’s fully open for business only half the year. Only a handful of presidential libraries in major metro markets sustain more than 100,000 annual visitors.
I’m for the library, but let’s build one that we can afford to own and that serves a more realistic tourism base.