North Dakota Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment (2014)

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The North Dakota Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment may appear on the November 4, 2014 ballot in North Dakota as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure, upon voter approval, would redirect five percent of the state's oil extraction tax revenue to a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Trust (the "trust") and a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Fund (the "fund").[1]

Of the revenue received from the oil extraction tax, 90 percent would be deposited into the fund, while 10 percent would be deposited into the trust.

The fund would be used to provide grants to public and private agencies to aid their work in improving water quality, natural flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, parks and outdoor recreation areas, access for fishing and hunting, land acquisition for parks and outdoor education for children. The fund would be governed by a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Commission, which would be comprised of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner. A Citizen Accountability Board would be appointed for three-year terms to review grant applications and make recommendations to the commission.

The principal and earnings of the trust could not be used until after January 1, 2019, and only with a two-thirds majority vote in the North Dakota Legislature.

The initiative requires that every twenty-five years, voters be able to decide on the question of whether to continue the fund’s financing from the oil extraction tax.

The amendment would go into effect on January 1, 2015.[1]

The measure is sponsored by North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks.[2]

Text of the measure

Constitutional changes

See also: Article X, North Dakota Constitution

The initiative adds a new section to Article X of the Constitution of North Dakota.[1]

Support

NorthDakotaConservationAmendment2014.png

North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks (NDCWWP) is leading the campaign in support of the measure.[2]

Supporters

Organizations

  • Pheasants Forever[2]
  • Ducks Unlimited
  • Audubon Society
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • National Wildlife Federation
  • The Conservation Fund
  • The UND Wildlife Society
  • National Park Conservation Association
  • Quality Deer Management Association
  • Izaak Walton League of America
  • Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
  • Dakota Outdoors
  • North Dakota Wildlife Federation
  • North Dakota Natural Resources Trust
  • North American Grouse Partnership
  • North Dakota Beekeeper’s Association
  • North Dakota Chapter National Wild Turkey Federation
  • North Dakota Chapter of the Wildlife Society
  • Badlands Conservation Alliance
  • Grand Forks County Prairie Partners
  • Barnes County Wildlife Federation
  • Stutsman County Wildlife Federation
  • Cass County Wildlife Club
  • Lewis and Clark Wildlife Club
  • Friends of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
  • Missouri Valley Shooting Sports Association
  • Sporting Chance

Businesses

  • Great Northern Bicycle Co.[2]

Arguments

Howard Vincent, CEO of Pheasants Forever, Inc., called the initiative "uniquely North Dakotan."

Those of you who have been in North Dakota for a long time see it on every drive: Disappearing grasslands. Drained wetlands. Contaminated waterways. Duckless skies. Fields without pheasants and songbirds. Fewer monarchs and honeybees pollinating our crops.

With nearly 2 million acres of lands converted from wildlife habitat to production, the North Dakota we all know and love is changing before our eyes.

The question is, what are we going to do about it?

The oil boom and higher crop prices mean that North Dakota is enjoying economic growth like it’s never seen before; but that prosperity is coming at a cost, and we need to think ahead...

Also, dedicating funding to clean water, wildlife and parks is akin to opening a savings account for your children’s future. Funding must be in place for future generations of North Dakotans, and this gas-extraction tax is a straightforward and painless way to accomplish that goal.

And, it’ll all be done without taking away from other important needs in the state. It won’t increase North Dakotans’ taxes, and it won’t impact other critical services.

All it does is ensure that at least some of the proceeds from this remarkable economic boom get directed back to the very land that’s providing it...

It’s incumbent upon every North Dakota voter to ask what the real motivations are behind the opposing groups. Remember, this amendment is built upon a simple allocation of the existing gas and oil extraction tax. All of the funds stay in North Dakota. All the funds will be used to protect the North Dakota natural resources we love.

It’s a wise investment in our collective future. [3]

—Howard Vincent, [4]

Jim Fuglie, former director of the North Dakota Department of Tourism, said the amendment would "benefit farmers."

As a nearly lifelong Farmers Union member, I want to reassure members of the conservation community that Watne’s recent letter about the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment does not reflect the feelings of most rank and file Farmers Union members.

And I want to correct a few misstatements he made.

Watne charges that “out of state groups” are trying to undermine agriculture. That’s not true. In addition to being a Farmers Union member, I’ve been a member of two of the major sponsors of this measure, Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited, throughout many of my years as a hunter and conservationist, as have more than 10,000 current North Dakota members of those organizations.

We’re not from out of state, and we’re not “hostile to the ag industry” as Watne claims. We know that farmers — who make habitat for the birds we hunt — are our best friends. We’d hardly want to undermine them...

Watne says that the measure will create a “private fund” in our constitution and give nonprofit groups hundreds of millions of dollars to buy land. Again, that’s not true, and he knows it.

All funds that go into the new program are controlled by a committee made up of the governor, the attorney general and the agriculture commissioner. They have to approve every penny that is spent from that fund.

I’m pretty sure they are not going to allow it to be used to compete for land with farmers.

As president of Farmers Union, Watne is entitled to his own opinion on these things; but he represents the members of an organization, and he can’t just make up his own facts.

At last fall’s state Farmers Union Convention, members voted to reject a statement opposing the conservation measure. I expect there is pretty broad general support from Farmers Union members for this measure. [3]

—Jim Fuglie, [5]

Opposition

North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation (NDCSC) is leading the campaign against the measure.[6]

Opponents

Organizations

  • North Dakota Farmers Union[7]
  • North Dakota Farm Bureau
  • North Dakota Farm Credit Council
  • North Dakota Stockmen’s Association
  • North Dakota Grain Growers Association
  • North Dakota Corn Growers Association
  • North Dakota Soybean Growers Association
  • North Dakota Ethanol Producers Association
  • North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts
  • United States Durum Growers Association
  • North Dakota School Boards Association
  • North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders
  • North Dakota Association of School Administrators
  • North Dakota Association of Secondary School Principals
  • North Dakota League of Cities
  • North Dakota Association of Counties
  • North Dakota Water Users Association
  • North Dakota Motor Carriers Association
  • North Dakota Implement Dealers Association
  • North Dakota Association of Builders
  • Bismarck-Mandan Home Builders Association
  • Dickinson Area Builders Association
  • Minot Association of Builders
  • Forx Builders Association
  • Landowners Association of North Dakota
  • Northwest Landowners Association
  • Utility Shareholders of North Dakota
  • Credit Union Association of the Dakotas
  • Fargo-Moorhead Area Association of REALTORS®
  • Williston Area Builders Association
  • Associated General Contractors of North Dakota
  • North Dakota Petroleum Council
  • Lignite Energy Council
  • North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties
Chambers of Commerce
  • Greater North Dakota Chamber[7]
  • Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce
  • Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo of Commerce
  • Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce
  • Minot Area Chamber of Commerce

Arguments


A television ad put out by NDCSC.

North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation listed six critiques of the initiative on their website. The following is an excerpt from the list:

1. Driven by out-of-state interests

The supporters of the proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment are being funded primarily by out-of-state special interest groups...

2. Lack of flexibility
According to the amendment, the new conservation fund would receive 5% of North Dakota's revenue from the oil extraction tax, no matter what. Five percent is almost $300 million per biennium right now. Under the amendment, 75% of that massive conservation fund must be spent each year, no matter what. Even if there aren't any relevant conservation needs, the money needs to be spent anyway. That is a recipe for wasteful and irresponsible spending.

It also fails to consider any other needs in the state. Sure, North Dakota is currently benefiting from the healthiest economy in the country, but as our population and economy grows, so do our needs. Under the proposed amendment, conservation funding receives legal precedence over every other need in the state, including:

  • education
  • infrastructure
  • health and human services
  • property tax relief
  • senior programs

3. Constitutionally-mandated funding
The proposed Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment would mandate conservation spending as part of the state constitution. It would be the first-ever constitutionally mandated spending in the state of North Dakota and as an amendment, the only way to change or repeal it would be through another vote of the people. It sets a dangerous precedent. This constitutional measure will be the one and only state funding provision set in stone in our constitution at the expense of all other needs...

4. Biased advisory board
The 13 members of the advisory board who would provide funding recommendations for the conservation fund would be required to have a background in land conservation and/or conservation activism. Requiring the conservation background stacks the deck against North Dakota's agriculture and energy industries.

Of the 13 advisory board members, there would be only one farmer/rancher member and one energy industry member. The board is essentially designed to shut out the concerns of agriculture and energy, which are North Dakota's two largest industries.

5. Amount of money spent
Under the proposed amendment the conservation fund would receive almost $300 million per biennium ($2.8 million per week) right now. Over the amendment's 25-year lifespan, that amount would get as high as $400 million per biennium ($4 million per week) and at least 75% of that has to be spent each year. It amounts to $4.8 billion over the next 25 years.

Not only is that a lot of money, but it has to come from somewhere. Just because North Dakota's economy is healthy doesn't mean we don't have needs. The money mandated for the conservation fund is money that could be spent on schools, education, infrastructure, property tax relief, water issues, health and human services -- the list goes on...

6. No spending plan
One of the most alarming parts of the proposed amendment is that we don't know how the money will be spent. There's no language that details how the money will be spent other than that it will be spent on conservation. It will be up to the advisory board to determine what qualifies for funding. Given the conservation backgrounds required of advisory board members, it's likely that radical environmental and animal rights groups would receive the bulk of the conservation funding.

The one thing we do know for sure is that the conservation funding provided by this proposed amendment could be used to purchase land. For the first time in North Dakota's history, non-profit groups would be able to purchase land and take it out of production agriculture, close it to hunters and fishers -- whatever they want. [3]

—North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, [8]

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing the initiative process in North Dakota

The measure was approved for circulation on August 29, 2013 by the Secretary of State.[9] The initiative's supporters needed to collect a minimum of 26,904 valid signatures by August 6, 2014. On August 4, 2014, supporters turned in an estimated 41,136 signatures to the secretary of state's office.[10]

Similar measures

See also

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References