Wagner: ‘Clean water’ bill comes with mysterious pricetag

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Farm Forum

Friday is here. I have been waiting for this day for about 12 years now. And I cannot believe that the time has actually come. My oldest child will be hunting his first deer this weekend. That’s right, there’s another hunter in the neighborhood.

As a child, some of my earliest memories of my family spending time together involved hunting, fishing and the great outdoors. And I cannot wait to make some of those same memories with my children.

This brings me to one of the issues that I’m becoming more passionate about this fall. I was reading through the measures that will be on the ballot in North Dakota in November. One of them sounds great on the surface — until you read the measure.

Measure 5 in North Dakota is a proposed constitutional amendment that will set aside 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax for conservation efforts. I am all for conservation efforts. In fact, on our farm we do our best to address conservation on all different levels, from soil health to wildlife. We work hard to protect our children’s future, as well as enjoying the habitat that is provided.

So why would a measure bring me concern? To tell you the truth, the part that worries me the most is the part that isn’t clarified. What will this money be spent on?

If this fund was available today, there would be roughly $2.8 million available to be spent per week. Yes, that is correct, $2.8 million per week. That’s a lot of money. In the 25 years that the amendment would be set for, there would be more than $4.8 billion taken out of the oil extraction tax and set aside for conservation.

I do believe that it’s logical to come to the conclusion that the majority of this money would be put toward the purchase of more land. And that’s where I’m concerned.

My four boys may be interested in farming for a career. If they decide they want to expand our farm, or purchase new property to venture out on their own, how can they compete against a fund that has an endless pocketbook? Won’t those sales artificially inflate the market? What does that do for the rest of the tax base?

The amendment has been coined the “Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.” It infers that if you’re not in favor of the amendment, then you don’t appreciate the things that it’s offering. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just last legislative session, the state of North Dakota started a Heritage Fund that would provide $30 million each biennium additionally for conservation projects in our state. That fund hasn’t even had a chance to work.

I am a big fan of clean water, I appreciate the beauty (and tastiness) of wildlife, and my family and I enjoy spending time at the parks frequently, but I believe we can address these issues without risking the future of agriculture.

Val Wagner loves raising her four boys on the farm in Dickey County, along with her husband, Mark. Catch her blog, Wag’n Tales, at wagfarms.wordpress.com. Contact her at wagntales@gmail.com.