Port: 'But property taxes' is not a good argument against flattening North Dakota's income taxes
Let's not let good income tax reform be defeated by more bad property tax policy.
MINOT, N.D. — Last month a group of Republican leaders — including Gov. Doug Burgum, Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus, and state Rep. Craig Headland — announced a plan to flatten North Dakota's income tax .
Currently, North Dakota has five income tax brackets. The flat tax plan would narrow those to just one, and eliminate the tax for most North Dakotans.
Single income filers making $54,725 or less in adjusted gross income, and all married filers making $95,600 or less would pay no income tax at all. That's roughly 60% of the state.
Those making above those levels — the remaining 40% — would pay a flat 1.5% .
The proposal has come under fire from both the left and the far right, and they're basically making the same argument.
North Dakotans don't want income tax relief, they tell us.
North Dakotans want property tax relief.
“As I’m going door to door talking to people, their major concern is property tax,” Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, a Democrat from Fargo , has said. “And income tax, we know it’s relatively low for the 60% people who are going to pay nothing, but they don’t generally mind it. They don’t mind paying that state income tax.”
Lori VanWinkle, a Minot Republican currently running for the state House, also says the Legislature should be focused on the property tax. She even goes so far as to say, incorrectly, that taxing property to fund schools is unconstitutional.
“I believe every single family will see yet another year of increase on their property tax,” VanWinkle said . “I ask this question. What is the math and the end result of an income tax reduction versus an elimination of the property tax? At the end of the day what do I as a tax paying citizen get from one or the other. We are paying unconstitutionally for our education system in our property tax for one thing, considering it is law that the legislative assembly shall provide for the free system of schooling.”
Piepkorn doesn't want to cut taxes because he's a liberal and would rather spend the money.
VanWinkle is a Rick Becker disciple from the Bastiat Caucus wing of the NDGOP who is probably opposing income tax cuts just because Burgum, that faction's bête noire, is for them.
Whatever their motivations, the "but property taxes" argument falls flat.
The Legislature has been trying to deliver property tax relief for decades. It hasn't worked. People are still complaining about their property taxes.
The Legislature has sent billions to the local level to buy down property taxes. It hasn't worked because the people who do the spending that drives your property taxes aren't in the Legislature. They're on the park board and the school board and the county commission, etc.
Don't like your property tax bill? Talk to them.
The Legislature, meanwhile, must stop listening to people such as Piepkorn and VanWinkle, and stop trying to lower a tax they don't control.
If they want to deliver tax relief, the income tax is a good vehicle for it, because it is something the Legislature controls.
This column initially indicated that VanWinkle is running unopposed for the state House of Representatives. That was incorrect. Joey Nesdahl, endorsed by the Democratic-NPL, is also running for that seat against VanWinkle and incumbent Republican Jeff Hoverson.