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 SkootersPlumbing

Recently in:

WASHINGTON D.C. – The federal government reopened Monday, but not after blame shifting and a reluctant agreement made on key issues. Republicans declared victory, and some analysts agree, adding it will be short-lived.Short-lived…

When I was a young boy of five I was lucky enough to have a black and white TV in our house. I had a lot of friends in those day because I let the whole neighborhood come over on Saturday morning to watch cartoons. I distinctly…

Wednesday, January 24, 6pmFargo Theatre, 314 Broadway NThe very first showing of “Homegrown: From Farm to Fargo,” a half-hour documentary shot, written, edited and produced by mass communication and journalism students at…

Last week I was asked to appear and speak on behalf of Matt Pausch, owner of the Oasis, before the Public Works and Safety Committee in Wahpeton. The Pausches are great people and I will never forget the time I spent at the Oasis.…

Corky had a knee replaced in late December and she has been diligently doing the physical therapy connected with the rehab. Although the operation was done in Fargo, I imagine the procedure would have cost about the same if it had…

Rhombus GuysWhile they may be known locally and throughout the region for their restaurants, which feature over thirty different pizzas, and their recent addition of a brewery in Grand Forks, Rhombus Guys also proudly pour from a…

Do you eat enough vegetables? Almost no one does. The current USDA nutrition guidelines for adults recommend 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables to be eaten daily. Other nutrition sources indicate this number can be upwards of 6 cups of…

No one who has lived in Fargo for any length of time has to be told how bitterly cold it can get here during the winter. As much as we might complain about the cold temperatures, the biting winds, or the copious amounts of snow, we…

Now playing on Netflix Instant Watch, Voyeur is the curious story of strange bedfellows Gay Talese -- the once influential and celebrated journalist -- and Gerald Foos, a creepy peeper who spied on the guests at his hotel,…

High Plains Reader: How did the idea for Daily Trump Cartoon come to you -- what was your call to action?Peter Yuenger: It wasn't really a call to action, It was more of a New Year’s resolution to get back in the habit of drawing…

Smoke starts to seep from the sides of the stage and a rocker’s voice echoes over the crowd: “Are you ready to rock?!”You might think that you’re at a rock concert, if you weren’t seated in a black box theatre. For the…

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…

“What are some of your favorite bottles of whiskey?” is a question I get asked quite frequently and is often harder to answer than one might think. One of the great rewards of my profession is getting to sample some of the…

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 Gary Olsonolsong@moravian.edu“Kissing a man without a beard is like eating an egg without salt.”— Dutch proverb, probably written by a man.“Kissing a man with a beard is like going on a picnic. You don’t mind going…