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Conservation measure supporters submit signatures

Dave Thompson
Prairie Public

Supporters of a proposed Constitutional amendment to set aside a portion of oil taxes for parks, clean water and wildlife habitata gathered at the state Capitol in Bismarck, as the petitions for the Constitutional measure were presented to the Secretary of State’s office for verification.

The measure takes five percent of the oil extraction tax – and dedicates it to conservation projects.

Supporters gathered more than 41,000 signatures to get this measure on the November ballot.

"The response to this proposal by the people of this state has been exceptional, positive and strong," said Steve Adair of Ducks Unlimited, the chairman of the initiators' group. "They see this as a prudent, common-sense approach to insuring our quality of life."

Opponents of the measure say it would dedicate $4.8 billion over the next 25 years for those projects – and that would take away from other priorities, such as education and infrastructure. Adair rejects that.

"We have the financial resources in this state to conserve our land and water, which we all depend on, and also to address the needs with education and infrastructure," said Adair. "We can , and we should, do both of these things."

But the opponents say they'll use that argument to convince voters to say 'no.' North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation also say it's a bad idea to put a mandated spending measure in the state Constitution. The measure requires 75 percent of the money to be spent in each biennium.

"This will be the first time in our state's history that we have a mandated spending piece in our state's Constitution," said Jon Godfread, a spokesman for the opposition. "That's not a very good public policy decision. And I think it opens up the door for fraud and abuse."

Opponents also claim the measure’s backers hired people to gather signatures – and they say while that isn’t against the law, it goes back on a promise the supporters have made. But Adair says the group used 550 unpaid volunteers to collect the signatures.

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