The Forum, Fargo, Feb. 7, 2013
Got milk? Not for ND kids
Milk for children in school seems like a good idea. But in North Dakota, a federal program that funded snack-break milk for needy kids won't be getting help from proudly wealthy North Dakota. House Bill 1421, sponsored by Rep. Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, was slapped down with a do-not-pass recommendation in committee on a straight party-line vote, 10-3. The bill also went down on a party-line vote in the House on Thursday. Republicans put ideology over the welfare and nutrition of families and children.
The feds initially funded the program, but no longer. It's apparently one of those cuts in federal spending Republicans like — programs that really help people. Boschee's bill would have appropriated $500,000 to serve about 6,000 children who receive milk with free and reduced-cost lunches, but sit without milk or juices during the snack break, while better-off kids get theirs. The money would have been made available to local school districts, and it is very likely most of them would have taken advantage of it.
Opposition to the bill was really offensive stuff. Rep. David Rust, R-Tioga, said the state is not funding the program because the feds used to. "If it's something they want," he said, "they should fund it."
Does it get any weirder? Here's a conservative lawmaker who lives comfortably in the anti-federal government camp, yet he would be OK if the deep-in-debt federal government funded a milk-for-kids program, rather than have billion-dollar-surplus North Dakota take care of its own. A contradiction? Hypocrisy?
The rejection in committee of Boschee's bill was a mean-spirited affront to children and families who might not be as well off as most legislators are. It reveals monumentally skewed priorities. Lawmakers, who just a few days ago fast-tracked hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, won't find a few thousand dollars to buy milk for children. Makes you proud, doesn't it?
Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Feb. 11, 2013
Oil impacts natural world as well
Oil development has stepped hard on western North Dakota's landscape.
The state has been reasonably quick to reinforce and expand infrastructure in the Western oil-producing counties. It's applied funds to social issues raised by oil development. The state has given a hand to cities, school districts and counties attempting to meet the needs of their citizens in this boom. All this in an area where people's lives are being changed by rapid development and industrialization of the landscape.
Inevitably, this kind of development also puts pressure on wildlife and other natural resources. The state should provide some assistance to those whose mission it is to protect valuable wildlife habitats, ensuring the future of North Dakota's outdoor experience.
The North Dakota Heritage Fund has been put forward by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. If it gets legislative approval, the fund will be managed by the state Industrial Commission — governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner — and make grants to state agencies, tribal governments, political subdivisions and nonprofit organizations to provide access to public and private lands for sportsmen, improve, maintain and restore water quality, soil conditions, plant diversity, animal systems and support other "practices of stewardship to enhance farming and ranching," and conserve natural areas.
Almost as important as what it will do is what it will not do: The fund cannot be used to litigate, lobby, do anything to "interfere, disrupt or prevent activities associated with surface coal mining operations; sand, gravel or scoria extraction activities; oil and gas operations or any other energy development; acquisition of land for more than 20 years or projects outside the state."
It makes clear what's important at this point in the state's history — the economic benefits and jobs associated with energy development. Not that conservation and wildlife are not important; they are, but the need is to shore up the livelihoods of families for the near future and, hopefully, beyond.
It is not an either or. Both are possible — vigorous oil development and sustaining the quality of the natural world in western North Dakota. And as oil development raised the need for improvements in transportation and community infrastructure, so, too, has it raised a need for improvements in conservation infrastructure.
The mechanism proposed by the governor makes sense. The critical issue remaining in flux is how much money should go to the Heritage Fund. The legislation in play now has $15 million annually attached to it. Some members of the wildlife and conservation community think this is too little. They would prefer to see $100 million.
Although the state is flush financially, there are many demands for funds. Toward the end of the session, the appropriations committees will tally up the requests for spending and try to balance that with revenues. That's when the real funding decisions are made. When that time comes, we urge legislators to give as much consideration as possible to the Heritage Fund. The governor's $15 million seems a minimum. The $100 million suggested by conservation and wildlife supporters represents the high end.
Minot Daily News, Minot, Feb. 7, 2013
Is it time to fire Shirvani?
North Dakota University System chancellor Hamid Shirvani is under fire, with Fargo lawmaker Tony?Grindberg introducing a bill at the Legislature to approve money to buy out Shirvani's contract after only seven months on the job.
Grindberg questioned Shirvani's leadership style and his controversial changes to the university system. Shirvani's contract runs to June 30, 2015, and buying him out could cost as much as $800,000. Shirvani said he won't step down, and state Board of Higher Education president Duaine Espegard said the board fully supports the chancellor. Only the board has the authority to hire or fire the chancellor.
We're certainly not fans of Shirvani's three-tiered proposal for the university system. The plan would be harmful to Minot State University. No matter what its supporters say, the plan would create a distinct three-class system. Minot State has worked hard to distinguish, yet would be lumped into a tier with Mayville State University, Dickinson State University and Valley City State University. Several changes would negatively affect MSU and set the university back in its goals of attracting and keeping top-notch students. Those changes include ending flat-rate tuition for out-of-state and international students and cutting in half the amount of money available to offer tuition waivers.
Shirvani has been controversial, with his sweeping proposal, his request to add 30 employees to the university system and a plan to build an unnecessary office for himself at UND. But should the board seriously consider firing him?
We doubt Grindberg's bill will gather enough support to pass, and we don't expect the board to fire Shirvani. But the fact that the situation has escalated to this level already doesn't bode well for Shirvani's longterm future with the system. The board must seriously address all concerns about Shirvani's leadership.