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:

BISMARCK – The Dakota Access Pipeline developer agreed to plant trees to reach a settlement over two misconduct allegations while constructing the pipeline on Wednesday. A total of 20,000 trees are to be planted by December 31,…

photo by Meg Luther Lindholm.Ibtissem (pronounced Ib-tiss-em) Belmihoub is both enjoying her time in Fargo as a doctoral student in Rhetoric, Writing and Culture at NDSU and a community volunteer. She is currently the Project…

Wed-Fri, September 27-29, 8pm; Sat-Sun, 2pmComstock Theatre, Concordia College, 901 8th St S, MoorheadIt is October, 1517, at Wittenberg University in northern Germany, where students and faculty begin another academic year. A…

Our opinion: We’re more than the sum of our partsOver the weekend I was telling a friend of mine that one of the most valuable things a person can gain in life is perspective. My time at the High Plains Reader has gifted me just…

What kind of characters would charge $99 for a case of water?In the days before the solar eclipse safety glasses sold for $8.95 for a five-pack of certified glasses. The day before the eclipse the price was raised to $59. During…

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…

Brand new and satisfying in so many waysI ventured into Tru Blu on Sunday at noon. As soon as I entered I was immediately astonished by the interior. It’s gorgeous! The brown tufted booths and dark wood give the impression that…

Fall is arriving, and that of course means that the new season of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra’s “Masterworks” series sponsored by Sanford Health is right around the corner.In the last couple concert seasons they…

Rom-coms are a staple of modern movies and have been for well over a century. This summer two very different variations on the genre spotlighting iconic 20th-century superstars made their Blu-ray debuts from Kino-Lorber. One is a…

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. This nonprofit organization described their mission as “To identify students with their exceptional artistic and literary talent and…

‘Heathers’ hits the Empire stage in Grand ForksBefore the pink-clad Plastics or Cher’s group of popular beauties in “Clueless,” the shoulder pad-wearing, croquet mallet-wielding Heathers ruled the halls of Westerberg High…

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…

Up here where it’s north of normal, we can pretty much count on our first cold snap to hit right about now, and the 90 degree day we JUST HAD seems like a distant memory. Goodbye pool parties, BBQs and the patio hang sesh. Hello…

Essential oils. They are all the buzz lately. It seems everyone has heard of them or is purchasing them. Some people know how to use them; others are just interested in the wonder of their complex scents.Essential oils are as…

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…

By Robert Franklin, Esq.parents@nationalparentsorganization.orgIn North Dakota, a child’s chances of spending meaningful time with each parent following divorce have less to do with his parents than what county they divorce…