Chamber wants restraint on conservation fund spending

A North Dakota business group is taking a stance early against any increased funding for an Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Andy Peterson, president of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, and Jon Godfread, vice president of government affairs, were in Minot Wednesday to share highlights of the past legislative session with the business community.

The Legislature approved $30 million for conservation efforts through an Outdoor Heritage Fund after an initiated measure effort derailed due to petition fraud.

Peterson said the chamber expects well-funded backers of the measure to be back with a new measure to gain the originally proposed $100 million, which legislators had scaled back.

Chamber officials noted a $100 million project would create the state’s ninth largest state agency with more money than the Highway Patrol. The original proposal also would have set up an autonomous agency. Under the approved bill, the fund is governed by the State Industrial Commission, made up of the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, said he was astounded by the $100 million request request of the Legislature by bill backers, who appeared “drunk on money” due to the state’s strong fiscal position. He said the attitude was “We deserve it. You have it. We should get it.”

“I am glad it failed,” Burckhard said.

Godfread said $100 million was too much to put into an untested program. The chamber supported the $30 million, but he said, “Anything over that would be a huge stretch.”

Peterson said the chamber would not support another “greedy money grab” if a ballot measure is initiated again to increase the funding. More money for an Outdoor Heritage Fund will mean less money available for other projects, he said.

“I think it will take away from local subdivisions. I think it would take away from schools,” he said.

The area where the chamber would like to see more resources directed is tax relief.

“Property-tax reform is definitely one area we are going to be looking at in this interim,” Godfread said.

The chamber had supported 35 percent reductions in personal and corporate income taxes in a House bill that was defeated in the Senate. The Legislature approved reductions of 20 percent for residents and 12 percent for corporations.

Still, the chamber was happy with the end result, which has led to a 41 percent reduction in personal income tax and 40 percent reduction in corporate income tax over the past five years.

“It sets a very nice picture for North Dakota, Godfread said.

Other approved legislation supported by the chamber included:

– $30 million for a Housing Incentive Fund.

– $12 million for Research North Dakota, formerly Centers of Excellence.

– About $8 million for various child-care programs.

– $1.5 million for Operation Intern to subsidize internships.

– Medicaid expansion.

– Corporate tax exemptions for telecommunications equipment purchases and for wind-powered energy.

The chamber awarded its Chamber Champion awards to 19 senators and 33 representatives. Local recipients were Republicans Rep. Dick Anderson of Willow City,; Reps. Bob Frantsvog, and Scott Louser, both Minot; and Sens. Burckhard, Oley Larsen, David Hogue and Karen Krebsbach, all Minot.