FARGO — Did local sales tax revenue decline in 2020? It depends on where you are.
Grand Forks did see a slight decline, reporting $25.7 million collected in 2019 and $25.6 million in 2020. Revenue increased in Fargo, with about $49.6 million in 2019 and $51.7 million the year after. Similarly, West Fargo saw an increase with $11.2 million in 2019 and $12.1 million in 2020.
"Rather than visiting brick-and-mortar stores, we tended to shop a lot online," explained Jeremy Jackson, professor of economics and director of the center for the study of public choice and private enterprise at North Dakota State University.
Jackson said North Dakota started collecting taxes on online sales a couple years ago. This was fortunate timing, bringing the state a lot more out-of-state sales tax revenue in the year of COVID-19.
"So we would have been in a much worse place if we hadn't modified our tax code," Jackson said.
Many local businesses still saw a sharp decline in sales tax revenue. Jackson's data shows the state lost overall in 2020.
"So in the second quarter of 2020, sales tax was down just over 20%, and it was down in the third quarter just under 20%," Jackson explained.
So what will it take to get the economy back to normal? Jackson believes vaccination is the answer to economic woes.
"What we need is people to get back involved in the economy, to be comfortable going to the store, to be comfortable going to a restaurant," he said.
Overall tax revenue data for the fourth quarter of 2020 in North Dakota has yet to be released.