North Dakota’s 66th Legislative Assembly was brought to its conclusion last Friday. I wrote yesterday about the misleading narrative already being pushed that the resulting budget was “conservative”— it wasn’t. For fiscal conservatives, the overall results of the session were nothing short of disappointing. In other words, it was a blown opportunity to reduce the size of government and bring more relief to taxpayers.
Just one of the examples of a blown opportunity came at the hands of the Senate on Rep. Corey Mock’s (D – District 18) House Concurrent Resolution 3055. I first wrote about this back in early March and then again a week ago.
In its original form, HCR 3055 proposed a constitutional change — that if approved by the voters — would have no longer made the transfer of Legacy Fund earnings to the General Fund automatic. Instead, it would have reinvested them into the principal and required a 2/3 vote of the Legislature to access the funds. To make a long story short, the Senate didn’t like the idea. So, they amended it to a proposed interim study. That didn’t fly in the House, so in the end the Senate receded from the amendment, put it back to its original form, and killed the bill by a vote of 5-42 the day before the Legislative Session ended.
One interesting aspect of HCR 3055 was when the concern was mentioned during floor debate — in both the House and Senate — that “outside interests” may one day come in and spend the earnings through initiated measure. Why was this interesting? Because the very resolution that the Senate ended up defeating would have prohibited such a thing. But why let facts get in the way when fear tactics are so effective?
Perhaps the worst part of it all though is that the resolution ultimately suffered defeat on the basis of the Senate having their eye on future spending of the earnings. Quite simply, they don’t want to be bothered with a 2/3 threshold to access them. In fact, they don’t want to be required to vote at all to transfer the funds. They like things as they are— with them automatically going into the General Fund. In other words, the easier to spend them… well… all the better.
This was made clear during floor debate in the Senate. Senator Dwight Cook (R – District 34) referred to HCR 3055 as “one of the most important issues we’re going to have before us this session”, as he urged the resolution’s defeat. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R – District 37) pleaded that the proposal be defeated so they could more easily spend the earnings later on for the “benefit [of] the state of North Dakota”, rather than keeping the money “locked up”.
I’m not sure whether folks like Senators Cook and Wardner don’t understand or they just choose to ignore the reality of the benefits of being more fiscally conservative with the Legacy Fund. Had this resolution gone on to the voters for approval, the future economic realities could have been astronomical. But apparently expecting fiscal conservatism from the North Dakota Legislature — and most especially the Senate — is just too much to ask. Which is fascinating when we consider the fact that the primary sponsor of HCR 3055 was a Democrat.
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