Port: This is why North Dakota Democrats can’t win elections

Rob Port
Rob PortForum News Service

MINOT, N.D. -- Do you know what’s the worst?

When some joker puts on an air of intellectual superiority and asks you if you know what the definition of insanity is, as if you’ve never heard that one before.

You try not to roll your eyes as they tell you it’s “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” A quote they’ll then smugly attribute to some luminary -- usually Einstein, but there’s no evidence he ever said or wrote any such thing.

As near as I can tell, the quote comes from a pamphlet distributed by Narcotics Anonymous in 1981.

Go figure.

There can be truth in even the most obnoxious of cliches, though. Certainly something is a bit off kilter with North Dakota Democrats attempting, again, to make a political beef out of oil tax reforms which were made law nearly four years ago.

During the 2015 legislative session lawmakers amended the oil tax code to remove a massive exemption the oil industry got when prices were low.

This exemption was so large,it essentially cut the combined oil production and extraction tax in half.

The original idea behind the policy was to keep the oil rigs working even in tough markets, and it made sense years ago when the state’s oil production numbers were a fraction of what they are now.

Post-oil boom, this so-called “trigger exemption” became a sort of land mine. Before it was abolished, state officials would nervously watch oil prices, unsure if the exemption would be triggered and blow a hole in tax revenues.

In 2015, this brinkmanship was eliminated, and in exchange for losing the exemption the oil industry got a reduction in the extraction tax rate from 6.5 percent to 5 percent.

Per data from North Dakota Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger, the net impact of these reforms through November is that the oil industry has paid more than $1 billion in additional taxes.

Yet to hear Democrats tell it, this change was nothing more than a sop to “big oil.”

Somehow, despite the oil industry getting a tax hike, they talk of how these changes have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Democrats opposed these reforms during the 2015 legislative session and failed.

They made this issue a top priority during the 2016 campaign cycle and lost big.

During the 2017 session, the Democrats attempted to raise the extraction tax back to 6.5 percent and failed.

During the 2018 election cycle, a group of Democrats attempted to put this issue on the ballot through an initiated measure. The effort flopped with even left-wing groups like North Dakota United and the Farmers Union declining to take part.

Now, during the 2019 legislative session, Rep. Pamela Anderson and Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, both of Fargo, have announced they’re taking another run at this issue.

Based on the outcomes from two legislative sessions, two election cycles, and one failed ballot measure effort, maybe it’s time for Democrats to quit gnawing on this bone.

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.