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Port: We had the debate about abolishing property taxes, and voters rejected it

Property taxes are a serious problem in North Dakota, and deserve better than unserious political grandstanding.

Rick Becker
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.
Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. — In District 3, in Minot, a Republican House candidate has floated, as a part of his campaign, an idea to use a surge of state revenues resulting from high oil taxes to bring down everybody's property taxes by 50%.

It's a detailed, serious-minded plan from Roscoe Streyle that is worthy of debate and scrutiny.

But in the primary race, Streyle is up against unserious candidates from the Bastiat Caucus wing of the NDGOP's schism. In response to his proposal, the Grand High Poo-Bah of the Bastiats has countered with an unserious idea North Dakota's voters have already rejected overwhelmingly.

State Rep. Rick Becker, who isn't running for re-election, argues, in a letter to the editor submitted to various publications around the state , that Streyle's plan is a nonstarter because what we really ought to do is eliminate property taxes entirely.

Which is the sort of pie-in-the-sky thinking politicians offer when they know they'll never really be called on to follow through. Not just because Becker isn't running for another term, but because his Bastiat Caucus disciples make up a tiny fraction of the Legislature, and thus have the luxury of throwing about brash, simplistic proposals while the grownups go about the more nuanced and difficult work of actually governing.

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I recently noted that Rep. Jeff Magrum, another Bastiat who is seeking the NDGOP Senate nomination in the District 8 battleground, voted against 40 of 49 appropriations bills during the 2020 session of the Legislature. He said "no" to funding most of our state government, all while offering little in the way of improvements to the spending bills he tried to vote down.

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That sort of grandstanding might titillate the Facebook constituencies these ninnies hold dear, but it's hardly relevant to the sound governance of the state of North Dakota.

But let's get back to the property tax question.

We had a debate about abolishing them. I was even on the abolition side of the argument, at the time. But when it was put to voters in 2012, 76.54% of voters said "no" to the idea.

Less than a quarter of the electorate, at the time, endorsed the proposal.

At that time, property taxes were routinely at the top of voter gripes, and not much has changed today, which is why Streyle is campaigning on a plan to cut them in half while the Bastiats are trying to upstage him by recycling old arguments from a decade ago.

To be sure, property taxes in our state are a morass. What you pay is driven by decisions made by your local governments — city, county, parks, etc. — yet blame for property taxes is heaped on the back of state lawmakers.

Streyle's plan is a response to that, and while it may not be perfect, it's at least possible, unlike what Becker and his clown car of Bastiats are proposing.

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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