Port: Are you ready for another debate over abolishing property taxes in ND?
It seems very likely voters will be asked to debate this issue again in 2020. At the very least, it will be a healthy debate for North Dakota to have.
MINOT, N.D. — In 2012, North Dakotans voted on a constitutional amendment abolishing property taxes.
It went down in flames, with three votes against for every one in favor.
The problem wasn't that property taxes are popular. They are a perpetual gripe from the electorate. Every election cycle property taxes are at or near the top of the list of voter concerns.
The "local control" argument is what won the day in 2012.
The opponents of the measure — primarily lobbying groups representing local governing entities — painted a vivid picture of our part-time Legislature struggling to keep up with the budgetary needs of cities and counties and school districts and park districts across the state.
These were not entirely unreasonable concerns, and the measure's proponents weren't ready with answers.
That's what state Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) told me during a recent podcast interview . "When you're up against a campaign of fear, you have to have good answers," he told me.
Becker is bringing back the idea of abolishing property taxes with a new ballot measure. He wasn't willing to show me a draft, but he says it will be submitted to the Secretary of State's Office soon.
He also says he's going to raise $1.5 million for the effort, a figure he hopes to reach by convincing supporters to donate 20% of their property tax bills.
After saying "no" so decisively eight years ago, are North Dakota voters ready to say "yes" in 2020?
One change Becker pointed out, something which addresses the "local control" argument, is that the state's share of funding local schools has increased from 50% in 2012 to a current level of 80%, with plans in Bismarck to take that up to 100%.
In the area of school funding, we've already been moving in the direction the 2012 measure would have taken us, only without ending the property tax.
Becker can also ask North Dakotans what progress they've seen toward making property taxes more palatable. The 2012 opponents promised all manner of fixes, but have they delivered?
If voters feel the answer is "no," there may be fertile ground for Becker's measure.
One concern many will have — and I share it — has to do with narrowing our tax base too much. Our state's economy is already too dependent on commodities like oil and crops.
Eliminating property taxes would put more eggs in that basket.
Becker says the elimination of property taxes will drive more investment in our state to help diversify.
A pleasant thought, but it might be a little too pie-in-the-sky for voters.
Becker is nothing if not a competent political organizer. It seems very likely voters will be asked to debate this issue again in 2020.
At the very least, it will be a healthy debate for our state to have.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com .