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Campaign 2014: Controversial Conservation Ballot in North Dakota

Should the state dedicate five percent of its substantial oil and natural gas taxes to conservation efforts? Outdoors groups, hunters, and environmental activists say yes; energy companies say no, and millions of dollars are being spent on each side.
November 3, 2014, 7am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Appearing on the North Dakota ballot on Tuesday is Measure 5, an initiated constitutional amendment that "would redirect five percent of the state's oil extraction tax to a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Trust and a Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Fund.[1]", according to Ballotpedia, 

Daniel C. VockGoverning’s transportation and infrastructure reporter, writes that the beneficiaries of the state's oil extraction tax have been diverse. "It has cut income and property taxes, built new roads and set aside more money for schools -- all while building up a sizable savings account."

Missing are measures the proponents want to see funded, "such as buying land (for conservation), creating parks, improving fish and wildlife habitats, preventing flooding, improving water quality and educating school children about the environment," writes Vock.

The main point of contention is whether it is wise to lock up as much as $150 million a year in state tax money for the foreseeable future when the growing state has so many other needs.

Critics of the measure don't want to reduce the amount of non-targeted oil tax revenues when the state is experiencing tremendous growth due to the burgeoning energy industry. The state is now the second largest oil producer after Texas.

For example, "the number of students in North Dakota is expected to increase by 10,000 -- or roughly 10 percent -- between the current two-year budget cycle and the next one," writes Vock. If Measure 5 passes, a $400 million "school bill could fall apart, lawmakers warned."

Measure 5 was placed on the ballot by signature-gathering. "Ducks Unlimited is the biggest financial backer, pitching in $1.9 million of the $2.9 million raised by proponents so far," writes Vock.

The oil industry is leading the opposition, contributing nearly half of the $2.2 million raised by foes of the measure. Business groups, farmers and education advocates are also against the plan.

Readers might be interested in Governing's "2014 Ballot Measures That Matter Most for States and Localities: We're tracking more than 50 of the most important statewide ballot measures this year."

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Published on Thursday, October 23, 2014 in Governing
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