Tracker Pixel for Entry

It’s time to get Breathe ND out of our state budget

by Rob Port | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Say Anything | December 10th, 2015

North Dakota may find itself short on revenues in coming bienniums, but the state could ease that pain by getting out of the anti-tobacco advocacy business.

First, let’s make the budget picture clear.

“I think there's a realization setting in that the revenues are going to be short of what we expected,” state Senator Gary Lee told me last week during an interview about the state’s finances (we didn’t get into tobacco policy). Lee is a Republican from Casselton who chairs the Legislature’s interim Budget Section committee. He told me the state will likely dip into reserve funds to make ends meet this biennium.

That’s not an unusual point of view among lawmakers these days as our state’s commodity-based economy takes a hit from low commodity prices.

But while the state has prodigious financial reserves, breaking open the piggy bank to access them is not pain free. The more than $575 million in the Budget Stabilization Fund, for instance, would only bridge a revenue gap for any given area of spending that is up to 2.5 percent less than what lawmakers appropriated.

Which means, in plainer language, that agencies hoping to get relief from the fund would have still have to reduce spending by 2.5 percent.

Maybe not such a bad thing, really. Over the last five budgeting cycles general fund spending in the state has grown more than 188 percent. The aggressive spending growth even predated the tax revenue windfall which accompanied the Bakken oil boom.

I suspect our state agencies can probably find 2.5 percent worth of fat to cut.

Fiscal reserves are only a short term solution, though. "I think we're going to be in good shape this biennium,” Lee said. “Next biennium, if it stays like this, it could paint a little bit different picture."

Which means that the budget pain could go alot further than 2.5 percent reductions if revenues don’t rebound.

So here’s a modest proposal for making the belt tightening a little easier: Let’s get rid of our ridiculous and redundant anti-tobacco advocacy agency.

The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy - you know them as BreatheND from their preachy, condescending advertising campaigns - was created by North Dakota voters on the 2008 ballot.

Voters were told that they’d be casting their ballots for using the state’s share of national tobacco settlement dollars for tobacco cessation programs. Would they didn’t realize is that they’d be creating an anti-tobacco political advocacy group in the state government. A cushy employment opportunity for blinkered political activists - including one state lawmaker, Democrat Senator Erin Oban of Bismarck - which is slowly creeping its mission into fighting vaping.

Something that has nothing to do with tobacco and, ironically, seems to be contributing to reduced tobacco use.

In North Dakota seven years must pass before lawmakers may modify legislation passed by voters at the ballot box. The 2017 legislative session will be the first opportunity lawmakers have to reform, and perhaps even eliminate, BeatheND.

What’s more, 2017 is the last year of the tobacco settlement payments, and BreatheND has been stockpiling their funds. According to the Office of Management and Budget’s appropriations book for the 2015-2017 biennium, BreatheND is projected to have a more than $56 million ending balance.

This is low hanging fruit for lawmakers hoping to ease the transition from boom-era revenues to the post-boom “new normal.”

We don’t need BreatheND to tell us that tobacco is bad for us - that knowledge has saturated the public consciousness - nor do we need a redundant health agency. And we already have a Department of Health.

Lawmakers should close down BreatheND and use its funds to shore up more needful areas of the budget. If there are programs or initiatives BreatheND is responsible for which are necessary to carry on - doubtful, but we can debate it - that policy can be transferred to the Department of Health.

Creating BreatheND was a mistake. Political advocacy doesn’t belong in state government. In 2017 we have the opportunity to both unmake that mistake and ease some budget pain. And if the BreatheND activists don’t like it, they’re free to create a private group and continue their advocacy.

RECENTLY IN

Say Anything

Tracker Pixel for Entry Aaland Law Firm

Recently in:

Alt White: The Siege of North Dakota. Part five in the series on racism in North Dakota. The state is no stranger to hate groups seeking attention, and while Pioneer Little Europe and the Creativity Movement form hit lists of North…

I have purchased many computer printers in my time, some good, some bad, some terrible! It has always been a necessary evil to have a printer on your desk. Early dot matrix printers were a nightmare to keep running, keep the paper…

Friday, April 28, Various timesMarcus West Acres Cinema, 4101 17th Ave, FargoThis movie, based on the award-winning novel by Kent Nerburn, is a story about a road trip through Minnesota and the Dakotas showing the beauty, tragedy,…

We’re living through hard times, but they are hard times with an important basic amenity: strong, tasty beer and ale, brewed by independent craft brewers. When did it all start? Historians are in disagreement. In 1976, the low…

Are we nearing the end of the human race?Moore’s Law is a rather simple observation made by Gordon Moore back in 1965 when he founded Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel, two very important computer chip makers. He remarked that he…

The moment of truth has arrived. After seven weeks of sampling and judging some of the finest libations in the area the results for this year’s Cocktail Showdown have arrived. Christopher Larson, Raul Gomez and Sabrina Hornung…

All About Food

​Twist

by Logan Macrae

On Saturday at 4:40pm I headed into Twist to grab a quick bite to eat before work. I was promptly greeted by one of their friendly serving staff. I was in a bit of a hurry as I worked at 5:30pm and I needed to get in and out, and…

By Sabrina Hornung and Tom Bixby sabrina@hpr1.comGoing back in time for one night only, the Sidestreet Grille presents a powerfully nostalgic show. You’ll remember where you were and what you shouldn’t have done!And how to…

Now on Netflix instant watch and not to be missed is director Keith Maitland’s “Tower,” one of the most memorable and gripping films of 2016. Carefully, even meticulously, constructing a moment-by-moment chronological account…

Arts

Gardens Galore!

by Sabrina Hornung

After months of planning, a theme was chosen. This year the Plains Art Spring Gala totes a decadent Art Nouveau-inspired theme with Gardens Galore. Art Nouveau imagery is known for its flowing, organic, nature-inspired forms as it…

Ovid’s mythological tales undergo dramatic transformation by award-winning director/playwright Mary Zimmerman as Concordia, MSUM, and NDSU deliver theatrical productions of three of her modern takes on his work.Concordia’s…

Humor

​Talking to strangers

by Sabrina Hornung

“I don’t have a tour, like, on the back of a sweatshirt,” comedian Paula Poundstone says. “I go out every weekend. This weekend I went out Friday, Saturday and Monday. Mostly it’s Friday/Saturday or Thursday through…

If you are at all like me, you have been itching to fire up the grill and get down to some outdoor cooking. If you and I are really alike, you probably almost always have a beer in one hand when there’s a grilling utensil in the…

What are essential oils anyway? Have you been hearing a lot about them, smelled them, and perhaps even purchased them but have no idea what they are or what they do?You are not alone. The essential oil industry is a booming one,…

Live and Learn

​The other shoe

by HPR Contributor

By Elizabeth Nawrotnawrot@mnstate.eduI look up from my hotel lobby breakfast astonished to see a framed print of Wassily Kandinsky's "Mit und Gegen,” a masterpiece of color and composition that just happens to be my favorite…

The North Dakota State Water Commission has violated state law more than 600 times in recent years by issuing permits for industrial use of water (read: fracking oil wells) from the Little Missouri State Scenic River. Employees…