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Majority Backs 3, 4

Undecided voters in North Dakota will determine the fate of two ballot measures that would profoundly alter taxing-and-budgeting policies, according to a new Forum poll.

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Undecided voters in North Dakota will determine the fate of two ballot measures that would profoundly alter taxing-and-budgeting policies, according to a new Forum poll.

Also, separate measures to create a tobacco prevention committee and fund, and a proposal to place North Dakota's embattled workers' compensation program under the governor's control, appear to be headed for victory, the poll results suggest.

Measure No. 1, which would create an oil trust fund, has the support of 42 percent of voters, with 26 percent against and 32 percent undecided, according to a telephone survey Oct. 6-8 of 606 likely North Dakota voters.

Similarly, 42 percent of voters favor Measure No. 2, which would reduce state income tax rates by 15 percent for corporations and 50 percent for most individuals. Twenty-nine percent of voters are against the proposal, while 30 percent remain undecided, according to the poll by the Public Affairs Institute of Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Here's a breakdown of the results on the four ballot measures:

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Measure 1: oil fund

Proponents of Measure 1 sell it as a way to save money for the future and cushion state budgets from volatile oil prices, which are prone to spike and plunge.

Critics, however, argue that the proposal is too rigid with its requirement that a three-fourths vote of both legislative chambers would be required to spend up to 20 percent of the oil trust fund's principal.

"This measure is terribly flawed," said Jan Cheney, a member of a coalition opposing both Measures 1 and 2. "That kind of a super majority, I don't see the need for it. Our state legislators are not known for their fiscal irresponsibility."

Rep. Dave Weiler, R-Bismarck, a leading proponent of Measure 1, argued that the proposal makes budgeting more predictable, and does not unreasonably restrict any future Legislature from having the flexibility to respond to shifting conditions, as critics have argued.

"I believe it does the exact opposite," he said. "It makes it a lot easier to budget because it's a consistent source of revenue that's going to be stable and increasing."

Measure 2: taxes

The proposal would reduce income tax rates for corporations by 15 percent and by 50 percent for most individuals, although one bracket would see a 45-percent break and two others would not be taxed.

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If passed, the income tax reductions would reduce revenues to the state general fund by an estimated $414.2 million in the 2009-2011 biennium, according to an analysis by state tax officials.

Dustin Gawrylow of Americans for Prosperity-North Dakota, the group pushing the income tax cuts, said he is surprised 32 percent of voters remain undecided about the measure.

"They're preoccupied with their own personal economics," he said, "which is why we would say it's the best time to cut taxes. Revenues have just increased so drastically over the past eight years that it's time for a correction."

But Cheney said the big drop in state revenues, which are needed to "pay for things we all want and need," including "roads, schools, health care, support for seniors," among other programs. "The list is pretty long."

"If Measure 2 passes it's going to significantly impact our resources and our legislators' ability to act down the road," she added.

Measure 3: tobacco

The proposal would establish a tobacco prevention and control advisory committee, and a fund administered by an executive committee, using new "bonus" revenues from a settlement with tobacco companies.

"It's about what I would expect" for an issue generating "very little controversy," said proponent Heidi Heitkamp, noting the 53 percent approval shown in the poll, with 35 percent against and 12 percent undecided.

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Measure 4: WSI

The poll shows 57 percent of voters favor the measure to place Workforce Safety and Insurance, the state workers' compensation program, back under the governor's authority.

"I'm gratified," said Stephen Little, a Bismarck lawyer who represents injured workers and proponent of the measure. "I think it means the public at large is aware of the issues and takes it seriously and is in favor of restoring accountability to WSI."

Legislators removed the agency from the governor in 1997, placing it under an independent board dominated by employers.

Critics have said placing the agency back under the governor would embroil the agency in politics.

Rollout of ND

poll results

- Monday: President, most important national issues

- Tuesday: U.S. House, governor, insurance commissioner and most important state issues

- Today: State ballot measures

- Thursday: Job-performance ratings of president, U.S. senators, U.S. congressman, governor and state Legislature

About this poll

Telephone interviews of 606 likely North Dakota voters were conducted Oct. 6-8 in a statewide survey conducted by the Public Affairs Institute of Minnesota State University Moorhead. The poll, with a sample weighted for age, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522

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