Early last month, we published an article expressing the view that Rep. Corey Mock (D – District 18) deserves credit for coming up with an idea to save more Legacy Fund dollars— rather than spend them. That idea was found in House Concurrent Resolution 3055.
As it’s currently written, the verbiage of Article X, Section 26 of the North Dakota State Constitution allows up to 15% of the principal of the Legacy Fund to be spent with a 2/3 majority vote of the Legislature each biennium. But the earnings of the fund are transferred to the state’s General Fund, at the end of each biennium, where they can be spent by the Legislature.
In its original form, HCR 3055 proposed a constitutional change — that if approved by the voters — would have no longer made the transfer of earnings to the General Fund automatic. Instead, it would have required a 2/3 vote of the Legislature to access the funds.
Unfortunately, the Senate didn’t like the 2/3 idea. You know, because that would make it more difficult to… well… spend. So, they did what the Legislature is famous for doing— they turned it into a study. And to make this idea more palatable, they tucked in a provision that says “the public should be allowed to engage in discussion and recommend ideas”. Pay close attention to that word “should”.
Much like “should” isn’t an absolute, neither is the study. There’s nothing in the proposal that mandates Legislative Management study the issue. No, as is often the case, it says they must “consider” it.
After HCR 3055 hit the House floor in its amended form last Friday, a long debate took place that resulted in the House refusing the concur with the Senate version of the bill. In fact, the vote wasn’t even close as it went down in flames 35-57. Because of this, the bill was sent to Conference Committee to hammer out the differences between the two chambers.
We learned today that no headway was made in Conference Committee. This wasn’t altogether surprising. After all, two of the three members of the Conference Committee from the House voted against the bill when it was first proposed. One of them — Rep. Craig Headland (R – District 29) — carried the committee report to the floor today, said the Senate wouldn’t budge, and essentially asked the House to cave like the Conference Committee did.
Not to be deterred, Rep. Mock rose to plead his case for rejecting the report of the Conference Committee. In doing so, he made a great point that not only could the resolution be sent to the voters in 2020, but the study could be accomplished in the interim as well. In essence, Mock was rightfully arguing that both chambers’ wishes could be satisfied.
Backing up Mock was Rep. Ben Koppelman (R – District 16). Koppelman exposed the ineptitude of the House Conference Committee when Rep. Headland admitted to him that an important amendment discussed during last Friday’s floor debate wasn’t even proposed to the members of the Senate Conference Committee. That amendment was simple— change the 2/3 requirement that the Senate was struggling with to a simple majority.
When all was said and done today, the House rejected the Conference Committee Report on a vote of 31-58. This means that the resolution will go back for further discussion. Thankfully, it appears Rep. Koppelman will replace Rep. Jim Grueneich (R – District 12) on that committee. Not only is Koppelman familiar with HCR 3055 and its intended purposes, but he’s an exceptionally skilled legislator who is very capable of making a case for the position of the House.
HCR 3055 has historic potential for our state. Let’s hope the Senate will negotiate and not allow this opportunity to pass by. The people of North Dakota deserve better. As Rep. Mock pointed out last month, the power of reinvesting all or part of the earnings back into the principal — combined with the power of compound interest — could have significant economic implications for our state. In short, it could truly be “Legendary”.
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