Earlier this year an initiated measure to create a conservation fund, overseen by a committee of government appointees and funded by tens of millions of dollars in oil tax revenues, was derailed by petition fraud perpetrated by, among others, roughly a dozen NDSU football players.
Governor Dalrymple rescued the idea in his executive budget, though his iteration capped proceeds for the fund and would put it under the oversight of the State Industrial Commission. Those are improvements, but this committee would still be able to appropriate millions of dollars to non-profit groups some of whom have very specific political agendas.
This is a terrible idea. Perhaps Dalrymple’s worst as governor, and that’s saying something given his support for enshrining the state’s heretofore property tax shift into state policy permanently.
What’s wrong with it? It’s not the idea of conservation in and of itself. I make no secret of my suspicions about those who would project their preferences for land use and protection onto those who, you know, actually own the land.
But this isn’t a debate over conservation. This is a debate over how we should be governed.
We have an army of elected leaders in this state – city councils, county commissions, township boards, soil conservation districts, state legislators, statewide officials, etc. – who make governing decisions. They can study conservation issues. They can make grants and appropriate funds. They use their policies to protect land or open it up to development.
What we don’t need is to layer on another level of bureaucracy. What we don’t need is another layer of bureaucracy empowered to pursue a specific political end, and make grants to non-profit groups who push for a political agenda in the private sector.
This conservation board couldn’t do anything that our elected leaders couldn’t already do. What this board could do is spend large sums of tax dollars, and influence policy, while not being accountable to the voters.
That’s a bad idea and should be shot down by the legislature.