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Tax initiative supporters will have to start over

BISMARCK -- North Dakotans who want voters to approve all tax increases will have to start over with their constitutional amendment. The group, "Protect and Empower the People," missed a deadline Monday to submit petitions to put the measure on t...

Charlene Nelson

BISMARCK -- North Dakotans who want voters to approve all tax increases will have to start over with their constitutional amendment.

The group, "Protect and Empower the People," missed a deadline Monday to submit petitions to put the measure on the ballot.

Charlene Nelson of Casselton, co-chairwoman of the group, said they realized they were short by a few thousand names, so they did not submit the petitions to the secretary of state.

"The effort will begin anew in the near future," she said.

Supporters were hampered by a host of problems, Nelson said, including petition carriers moving out of state or having family emergencies that prevented successful circulation.

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The group wants to amend the state constitution to require any state and local tax increases have approval by 60 percent of affected voters. They began their drive last August and had until Monday -- one year -- to gather 25,688 names.

The proposal was opposed by many groups, including the North Dakota Association of Counties, the North Dakota League of Cities, and the Greater North Dakota Association, the state's chamber of commerce.

Connie Sprynczynatyk, executive director of the League of Cities, said the failure of the drive is good news.

She said she believes a majority of North Dakotans favor "leaving local elected officials in charge of the budget process, since we think local officials are entirely accessible."

She said local officials envisioned a nightmare of restrictions on municipalities because the measure seemed to relate to not just taxes but all government-assessed fees. Cities believed that the way it was worded, they would not be able to raise water rates or increase park district recreation fees, or any other fees for services.

She said the discussion among local officials was, "How would we do this?"

Local governments pass budgets by ordinances that require public hearings, she said, "and we think the system has worked well."

Nelson said petition carriers found people eager to sign, even more supportive than the 2002 privacy law referral she successfully headed. She estimates 85 percent to 95 percent of people who were presented with the petition agreed to sign.

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"This is a very popular issue," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter  Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830

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