At the behest of Jamestown area legislators, a grand plan for a $60 million amusement park has been proposed to the Legislature for a direct appropriation of $5 million and a $60 million loan from the oil-rich Legacy Fund now brimming with $8 billion.
Developing a huge recreation area in Jamestown should not bother us. In fact, it could be a big plus for the state.
The $5 million appropriation is not big enough to be worrisome.
The $60 million loan from the Legacy Fund is a step out of the box but should not be of concern.
What should concern us is the origin of the proposal and involvement of the Legislature in investment decisions relating to the Legacy Fund.
Earlier in the session, Rep. Mike Nathe of Bismarck introduced a bill to open the Legacy Fund to in-state investments so the idea has been floating around the Capitol for weeks.
Before Nathe’s idea could be framed out, the Legislature is interjecting itself into decisions that belong to professionals. If the Legislature is going to be the source for proposals to invest the Legacy Fund, the fund will turn into a pork barrel of sorts.
Every legislative session hereafter will be dealing with economic development proposals that will stretch from sound to questionable.
In a previous column, I pointed out that “North Dakota is a small state of personal relationships, making maintenance of harmony an important function in society.”
Personal relationships create a form of politics that is not partisan but politics among friends. It is difficult to say “no” to friends. This makes our state more political than most people think.
Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck and Rep. Dan Ruby of Minot are against the Jamestown proposal.
Becker argues that if any proposal is sound it shouldn’t need public funds, while Ruby regrets some of the funding for innovative losers in the past.
Maybe the sound proposals are already being privately-funded but our history tells us that we will wait until the cows come home before we get anything like big creative privately-funded innovation.
Face it. If we were the money magnates in the major metropolitan areas across the country, how many times would we consider big bucks to innovate in North Dakota? The creative innovation right now is being done by undercapitalized local entrepreneurs. In many cases, they are having success in spite of the odds.
The truth is that no one from the outside is going to come to a small market state. If anything is going to happen, the state will have to grab its own bootstraps and pull.
In innovation ranking by WalletHub, North Dakota was almost at the bottom of the states, saved only by Louisiana and Mississippi. WalletHub also pointed out the three states lowest in venture-capital per capita was North Dakota followed by West Virginia and Mississippi.
These rankings tell us that we aren’t going anywhere without some publicly-funded creativity of our own.
In the creative spirit that spawned the State Mill and Elevator and the Bank of North Dakota, beyond the concern about private versus public money, the state ought seize the initiative and fund its own feasibility studies with the results offered first to private investors.
If they are unwilling to invest, then the state government ought to proceed to go with capital from the Legacy Fund.
During the past few months, while glorifying the Bank of North Dakota, we have labelled every state action as “socialism.” Perhaps giving money to the Jamestown proposal will be called “socialism” but it would be best described as “the public good.”
Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.