Some weeks ago, I was told that State Senator David Hogue (R – District 38) is concerned that some folks might try to tap the Legacy Fund through the initiated measure process. A recent article titled “North Dakota Lawmaker Warns Legacy Fund is a ‘Huge Target’ for Ballot Measures” confirms this to be true.
According to the Grand Forks Herald:
“Republican state Sen. David Hogue of Minot backs an idea to use a slice of the Legacy Fund, including its principal, for a loan program to help finance local infrastructure projects. He said it has become ‘incredibly easy’ for groups to amend the state’s constitution, including with out-of-state money, making the fund vulnerable.”
Like many other state legislators, Senator Hogue is no fan of our current initiated measure process. In 2013, he introduced Senate Bill 2183, which would have changed the requirements for those who can circulate petitions. That same session he also sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 4006. This would have subjected any measure with a “fiscal impact of at least forty million dollars per biennium” to a “review by the legislative assembly before becoming effective”. Both proposals passed the Senate, but were killed in the House.
In addition to this, Senator Hogue was also a sponsor of Senate Bill 2135 during the 2017 Legislative Session. This bill sailed through the Senate and House, was signed into law, and created what we now know as the interim “Initiated and Referred Measures Study Commission“. Their purpose is to “undertake a comprehensive study of the initiated and referred measure laws of North Dakota”. I wrote about this back in June and October of last year and then again in March.
I mean no disrespect to Senator Hogue, but I must admit that I find his concerns regarding the Legacy Fund being raided through initiated measure to be somewhat comical. After all, who has had the spending problem in this state for more than a decade? The legislature. Who tapped the earnings of the Legacy Fund – to the tune of $200 million – last Legislative Session to make a budget work? Yep, that was the legislature. And, of course, ideas on how to use the fund going forward are already coming from various… wait for it… legislators— including Hogue himself. Such things led us to publish an article less than two months ago about the Legacy Fund being an excuse for spending.
But aside from this, we have the text of the State Constitution which leads me to believe that, at the very least, the principal cannot be tapped through initiated measure:
“The principal and earnings of the legacy fund may not be expended until after June 30, 2017, and an expenditure of principal after that date requires a vote of at least two-thirds of the members elected to each house of the legislative assembly.” (Emphasis Added)
With the Legacy Fund sitting at $5.5 billion, I’m not nearly as concerned about the people attempting a coup on these funds as I am the legislature. I agree with State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt who said:
“I think it’s so very important that we just stop, we take a deep breath and really define what is the role of government, what is the role of the Legacy Fund and we use that as the absolute last resort.” (Emphasis Added)
Is the Legacy Fund – as Senator Hogue suggests – a “huge target”? I think it is. But perhaps he should look around at his colleagues in the Capitol to find out who’s most likely to zero in on it.