Andy Peterson, Bismarck
On Feb. 1 the Keep It Local North Dakota coalition began a discussion with our fellow citizens regarding Measure 2, a reckless constitutional amendment on the June 12 primary ballot. The response from citizens across our state about the need to defeat Measure 2 is clear. The more we all learn about Measure 2, the more we realize that Measure 2 is a seriously flawed and extreme measure that will result in your local government losing control over the funding of your local services.
A close examination of the facts reveals Measure 2 does not stand up to scrutiny. Measure 2 supporters claim that our state can eliminate more than $800 million in property taxes but will not have to raise other taxes and fees to replace this revenue. They believe the state Legislature can best decide what local projects need funding, and that this, somehow, strengthens local control. These claims are simply illogical.
Eliminating property taxes might sound good, but it is anything but sound policy. Measure 2 supporters are now realizing that they are losing their argument in the court of public opinion. That is why they recently shifted their strategy to the court of law. Rather than engaging in a thoughtful, rational discussion of the issue, supporters have resorted to filing a frivolous lawsuit aimed at stifling debate. Their charge, that tax dollars are being used to oppose Measure 2, is baseless. State law clearly forbids the use of public funds for political activities, and that law has not been violated.
However, elected officials do have First Amendment rights to speak out on issues. Citizens expect their elected leaders to offer opinions on public policy and provide leadership on important issues. The idea that they would not speak out on the most important policy question our state has faced in decades is preposterous. The notion that local leaders, who would see their communities and counties lose local control, and state legislators, who would have to decide the budgets for more than 2,100 political subdivisions, would be quiet when asked for their opinion is silly. It would also be a dereliction of their duty as our elected officials.
If the number of leaders and groups supporting Measure 2 was anywhere the number opposed to it, Measure 2 supporters would certainly not be filing such a frivolous lawsuit. Supporters do not like what they are hearing and are now trying to intimidate their critics. Despite this heavy-handed attempt to bully our leaders into silence, Keep It Local North Dakota will continue to disseminate the truth about the severe damage Measure 2 would inflict upon our state. We are hopeful the courts will settle this matter quickly so a forthright, respectful debate can occur. But, truthfully, we are not optimistic that Measure 2 supporters will engage in such a debate. Supporters know they are losing this issue on its merits, so it is likely North Dakotans will be subjected to more stunts to stop discussion and divert attention away from the real facts about Measure 2. North Dakota deserves better and that's why Keep It Local North Dakota was formed.
Our growing coalition is the largest public policy coalition in state history, representing over 200,000 North Dakotans. This extraordinary coalition is comprised of business and labor groups, public and private sectors, urban and rural, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and progressives, retired seniors and young professionals, teachers, farmers, police officers, firefighters, business executives and small business owners. Measure 2 supporters say our coalition is a bunch of special interest groups, but take a look at our membership at (www.keepitlocalnd.com). You will see a coalition that represents North Dakotans from all walks of life, in every corner of our state. Our cause is not ideological and it's far from radical. It's simple: It's about preserving local government and upholding your right to determine what's best for your community.
Measure 2 puts the future of North Dakota at risk. That's why it must be defeated. And that's why, in spite of stunts and sideshows, our coalition will not be silenced.
(Peterson is president of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce)