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
We are part of The Trust Project.

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.


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.

Local leaders shouldn't be on the hook for evaluating the national security implications of a Chinese-owned company building a corn milling plant.
If our congressional delegation isn't paying attention to the Jan. 6 committee, if they're dismissive of its revelations, then they are derelict in their duties to our state, and our country.
This ruling "increases the odds that you're going to see carbon capture on some of our projects," says Jason Bohrer, president of the North Dakota Lignite Energy Council.
The Supreme Court has not said that abortion is illegal. The court has said that Americans can set abortion policy for themselves through elections and legislative acts. The Supreme Court has not said that the EPA can never regulate carbon emissions, only that Congress didn't give that federal agency the authority to do what it was doing.
Gates and his trust will own the land, and the family who sold it to him will farm it, and that's all legal under the law.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What to read next
The five freedoms in the First Amendment have powered the nation’s long, divisive debate over the incredibly personal and societal issue of abortion — and may well be how we frame its future.
Salonen writes, "While in the midst of wedding season, it seems a good time to review this foundational truth."
"The cool, dreary May meant that we kept pushing back our planting until it was a good week or two past the point we would have liked to have seeds and plants in the ground. But the weather warmed up, and we certainly haven't been dealing with drought."
Shaw writes, "Women in North Dakota are probably feeling safe because the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the only abortion clinic in the state, will move to neighboring Moorhead. That’s because abortion will remain legal in next door Minnesota. Sorry to say, things can change."