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Poll clarifies opinion on North Dakota Legacy Fund

A new scientific poll underwritten by the North Dakota News Cooperative has finally cast some light on citizen opinions about this $10 billion Legacy Fund filled primarily by oil and gas money.

The money did not come from the backs of those “hard-working citizens” often used in political rhetoric, but it is money owned by everyone in North Dakota. Therefore, everyone has a stake in the use of the fund.

Having taught polling at the University of North Dakota, I offer some cautionary advice. The reliability of polls — even though scientifically structured — can be affected to some degree by the nature of the subjects being polled.

In the narrative of Michael Standaert of the NDNC, he points out that three-fourths of the people admit a level of ignorance on the subject of State Investment Board activities. Of course, the board has not done much to close the information gap between the Investment Board and the people.

People are also reading…

Because the people have been in the dark, their judgment on some issues must be taken with a bit of cognitive salt.

An outcropping of North Dakota parochialism appeared when 60% said they want the Legacy Fund investing, not in out-state or out-of-hemisphere, but in North Dakota development projects, with only 18% favoring investment anywhere we can get the best return.

Political issue

Throw this on the biennial carousel and we will get political outriders exploiting the revenue losses resulting by investing in only North Dakota because it will be important money on the campaign circuit.

In the poll, 84% want more transparency of investments, primarily publication of the lists of investment. According to lead pollster Trevor Smith of WPA Intelligence, “This is an important governing board but it’s a mystery to most voters.”

Steve Andrist, co-chair of the NDNC, observed that the “ND Poll results demonstrated that what the State Investment Board is doing and what the voters want them to do is emerging as an issue.”

NDNC Co-chair Jill Denning Gackle noted that the people are not making a connection with the Legacy Fund and their own lives and communities.

Investing is complex

When I chaired the Investment Board in the mid-’80s, I found that investing was more complex than it appeared on the surface, with the board relying heavily on the professional advice of experienced consultants.

Over the years, legislators have added their confusion to the administration of investments by putting themselves on the board, no doubt thinking that their imperial status would intimidate the nonlegislative members of the board.

As of now, the Legislature has wedged two members onto the board with efforts to expand its foothold in upcoming sessions. The Legislature has a voracious thirst to take over the executive branch.

It has been forgotten that in our three-branch government the Legislature determines policy and the executive branch executes policy. The presence of legislators on this administrative board is a violation of separation of powers.

When so little information flows through the state about the Investment Board functions, there is little political accountability for transgressions in the underbrush. Legislators can — and do — violate the basic tenets of the Republic.

Hopefully, the poll will lead to a greater state discussion of this wealth that has mortified us into inaction.

Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota Democratic lieutenant governor.

Read More: Poll clarifies opinion on North Dakota Legacy Fund

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