The danger of a huge majority of any one party in a legislature is the arrogance of power. The attempt to repeal Measure 3, the reallocation of money received by North Dakota from the national tobacco settlement, constitutes such arrogance. In 2008, voters approved the measure by a comfortable margin. In effect, the people of the state spanked the Legislature for misdirecting the tobacco money away from tobacco cessation and education programs and into water projects and schools.
Now along comes House Bill 1353, which, if passed, would violate the wishes of the voters and steal money from tobacco programs that are working as intended. If Republicans get bullied into sticking together, the numbers are there to undo the measure. They might even have a handful of smoke-addled Democrats in their camp.
Repeal is a bad idea. The programs and initiatives funded by the money are showing success after only about two years. For example:
- Tobacco use in the state is down about 19 percent.
- The sale of cigarettes continues a steady decline.
- North Dakota Tobacco Quitline use is increasing.
- Counseling to quit smoking is up nearly 200 percent since 2008.
If that’s not enough, a 2010 opinion survey showed 80 percent of North Dakotans support using tobacco settlement money for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. That was the clear message of the passage of Measure 3. Since then, sentiment to use tobacco money for those purposes has grown.
The proposed legislation would gut the measure. It would eliminate the guarantee that tobacco settlement dollars would be used for the purpose voters intended. It would cut back or eliminate local tobacco education programs that are working. That’s one reason the Fargo City Commission voted to oppose HB 1353 at its Jan. 24 meeting.
Moreover, the state is virtually swimming in revenues. There is no need to rob tobacco education programs to fund other things, no matter their merit. The bill, therefore, appears to be an unsubtle attempt to misuse the Legislature’s power.
The mere introduction of the bill is more than enough to suggest the lopsided Republican majority is flirting with the arrogance of power. Unless smarter heads prevail – and HB 1353 is scuttled – arrogance might be seen as corruption. After all, a wise man once said power corrupts and absolute power (as the majority enjoys this session) corrupts absolutely. The bill will be heard in committee at 9 a.m. Monday.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.