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Published March 23 2009

Forum editorial: Higher ed board gets the spurge

LEAFY SPURGE: To the North Dakota Board of Higher Education for taking the low road on a systemwide campus smoking ban. University and college presidents unanimously support a universal smoking ban on the state’s 11 campuses, but last week the board declined to act decisively. Instead, board members fell back on entirely discredited arguments against a ban, including the tiresome foolishness that smoking is legal. One board member ducked responsibility to public health by saying he didn’t agree with a ban that included smokeless tobacco products. Some schools have bans in place already, but a comprehensive prohibition that is the same on every campus is the best way to go. The ban would help clean up the campuses and send the right messages about public health and pollution from secondhand smoke. As for smokers, a ban does not prohibit them from engaging in their habit/addiction, it merely limits locations where they can do so. Proponents of the systemwide campus ban have the right idea. The board, however, seems to be operating in a smoky haze.

LEAFY SPURGE: To North Dakota House Minority Leader Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, for attempting to use the state’s tax code to confiscate 70 percent of a severance pay package given to fired Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota CEO Mike Unhjem. Whether one thinks the pay deal is fair or outrageous, using tax policy to target an individual is an abuse of legislative power. Indeed, such a stunt might not stand constitutional muster. Boucher and his like-minded allies in the Legislature will make political points with the proposal, but from a legislative perspective, it’s a bad idea.

LEAFY SPURGE 2: To Boucher for repeating the fiction that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota does not pay its fair share of taxes because it’s a nonprofit mutual company. He said as much in published reports last week. It’s not true, and the leader of House Democrats should know it’s not true. The Blues pay property taxes. Every premium is taxed, which amounts to more than the company would pay under the state’s corporate income tax. The property tax bill last year was $493,962; the premium tax totaled $10.3 million. Of course, those amounts don’t include the personal income taxes the company’s executives and employees pay. The Blues deserve some of the criticism they are getting over executive compensation and trips to resorts. But the critics should not repeat myths about the company’s tax liability.

PRAIRIE ROSES: To West Fargo school officials and patrons, who are engaged in a deliberate community discussion about building a second high school. Initial reaction from some of those directly involved seems to be tilting toward a new school to accommodate the growing student population. But the attractions of one big school – such as preserving the high school’s singular identity – also have advocates. It’s not an easy decision because the reasons for or against a new school don’t necessarily take into account what is best for students. Nonetheless, West Fargo is going about it in the right way.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board