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Port: How about a plan to cut North Dakota property taxes in half?

Who knew it was possible to discuss a serious policy proposal amid a bunch of I'm-more-conservative-than-thou Republican primaries?

House Majority leader Rep. Al Carlson (R-Fargo), left, and Rep. Roscoe Streyle (R-Minot) both questioned the numbers in 2015 state budget revenue projections. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune file photo
Former House Majority leader Rep. Al Carlson (R-Fargo), left, and Rep. Roscoe Streyle (R-Minot) during the 2015 legislative session.
Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Thanks to redistricting, and also a growing fracture in the North Dakota Republican party between traditional conservatives and culture war populists, the NDGOP has an unusually large number of competitive legislative primaries.

In a typical year we might see a half-dozen or so contested nominations, but this year there are 21.

Problem is, there isn't a lot of substance in these primary campaigns. It's a lot of "I'm the most conservative" and "no, I'm the most conservative," with a whole lot of grandstanding on hot-button national issues that have little to do with the remit of a state lawmaker.

But in the District 3 primary, in the Minot area, where there is a three-way race among Republicans for two seats in the state House of Representatives, one candidate, Roscoe Streyle, has put a detailed plan on the table to address something North Dakota voters say they want over and over again.

Streyle, who is facing off against incumbent Rep. Jeff Hoverson and convention-endorsed newcomer Lori VanWinkle, has a plan to cut property taxes 50%.

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The argument for this plan he made to me is very much rooted in what's going on in the world right now. North Dakotans are struggling amid price inflation and soaring energy prices, but North Dakota's government is set to see a revenue windfall thanks to high energy prices.

The most recent report from the state Office of Management and Budget shows general fund revenues running 18.5 percent, or about $332 million, ahead of the forecast lawmakers used to budget in 2021.

Streyle, who served on the Appropriations and Budget Section committees during a previous stint in the House from 2011 to 2018, estimates that the state's surplus will be over $2 billion by the end of the current biennium.

His plan would use those surplus revenues to give property owners (including those who own mobile homes) a roughly $486 million tax cut based on his calculations (he was kind enough to provide me with a PDF showing his math).

Every election, property taxes rank at or near the top of the list of gripes aimed at legislative candidates. Appropriate or not — remember that property taxes are levied by local governments like cities and counties, not the Legislature — this is the sort of thing voters want to hear about.

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There are some pertinent questions to ask about this idea.

How would the tax cuts be distributed? How do you prevent local governments from backfilling this relief created by the legislature with valuation increases or hiked mill levies? Is this to be permanent property tax relief, or just something to help calm some stormy economic seas in the short term? If the former, how does the state handle a half-billion-dollar-and-growing commitment to permanently buying down local property taxes? And is it wise to fuel property tax cuts with oil revenues given how many eggs our state already has in that basket?

Streyle will be on my podcast, Plain Talk, on Wednesday to answer those questions ( subscribe on your favorite podcasting service to listen ). I'm anxious to hear his answers.

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But whether this plan is right for North Dakota or not, kudos to Streyle for putting a serious idea on the table instead of a lot of platitudes about ideology and whatever the Fox News prime time lineup was ranting about last night.

A serious discussion about policy addressing a very prominent concern among voters is a refreshing change of pace.

State Rep. Bob Paulson is running unopposed for the District 3 Senate nomination. There is just one Democrat running in the district. Joey Nesdahl is seeking one of the district's two House seats.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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