MINOT, N.D. — The Legacy Fund has a problem.
The roughly $6 billion pot of money, created from a portion of oil tax revenues by the Legislature in 2009, is almost entirely invested outside of the borders of North Dakota. What's more, some of those out-of-state investments are morally dubious, including financial backing for the Chinese censor state and bonds for Vladimir Putin's Russian regime.
The Legacy Fund was created to benefit North Dakotans. So far, absent a defined purpose for those billions of tax dollars, the only people who seem to be benefitting are out-of-state and often out-of-country interests receiving the investments.
Not to mention the dozens of money managers the state has contracted with to make those investments.
Couldn't we do better?
According to the results of a new survey, commissioned by the Jamestown/Stutsman County Development Corp., most North Dakotans not only think we can, but that we should.
WPA Intelligence conducted the survey, and it included 502 North Dakota voters (half of them contacted via cellphone) with a margin of error of 4.4%. It shows that by a nearly 10-1 margin (78% to 10%), those polled believe “a specific and greater portion” of the Legacy Fund should be invested in North Dakota.
Interestingly, that lopsided outcome holds up even when respondents are told that investing in North Dakota, instead of elsewhere, might be risker. A whopping 72% said they were fine with that, versus 12% who said no.
Among the poll's other findings is that 76% of respondents feel that North Dakota-based money managers are better suited to handle the Legacy Fund's investments. Currently, the State Investment Board uses a San Francisco-based consultant and dozens of Wall Street-based money managers to do that job.
There is wide support for dedicating as much as 10% of the Legacy Fund for in-state investment (something akin to what Insurance Commissioner, and SIB member, Jon Godfread has proposed), but about 40% of respondents were willing to go as high as 60% of the Legacy Fund.
A whopping 63% of respondents opposed investing the Legacy Fund internationally.
What do we do with this information?
I'm not sure how many North Dakotans have been paying attention, specifically, to how the Legacy Fund's billions have been managed, but when they learn about it, they clearly don't like it.
Which means something has to change.
The news release sent out alongside the poll by the JSDC hints at a possible ballot measure. "According to Chris Wilson [CEO of WPA Intelligence], this survey could also lay the groundwork for a statewide ballot initiative in 2022 when the voters could add the words 'within the state' to clarify the current constitutional language," it states.
That, at least at this point, would be a mistake, though that's likely born of my low opinion of legislating at the ballot box.
I hope the State Investment Board's elected members — among the Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, Godfread, Treasurer Kelly Schmidt and Rep. Keith Kempenich — take these findings into immediate account starting at their next board meeting.
On a longer timeline, the Legislature, which convenes in January next year, should act on this.
Why should money managers in California and New York get to make money investing North Dakota's billions when actual North Dakotans could do as good or better?
Why should North Dakota's billions be invested almost entirely out of state and in odious foreign ventures such as puppet companies for Chinese Communists?
The Legacy Fund's benefit for North Dakota needn't just be in how its principle and earnings are spent, but in how its dollars are managed and invested as well.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.