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Forum Editorial: Beware of goodies from Dems

North Dakota Democrats have rolled out property tax and education proposals that are more political than serious. Not only would they be dead on arrival at the Legislature, they also reinforce the tax-and-spend label that Democrats just can't see...

North Dakota Democrats have rolled out property tax and education proposals that are more political than serious. Not only would they be dead on arrival at the Legislature, they also reinforce the tax-and-spend label that Democrats just can't seem to shed.

The Democrats' plans apparently are responses to more fiscally responsible proposals by Gov. John Hoeven and Republican legislative leaders. The Dems seem to be waving potentially very expensive carrots at North Dakota voters in an attempt to pick up votes for their tax commissioner candidate, Brent Edison. Edison is challenging incumbent Republican Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, who was appointed to the job. Democrats believe they can knock him off because he's not an established incumbent.

The politics of the issue are entertaining, but the dollar-and-cents details are more important. The governor's property tax relief plan is generous and practical in that it includes a simple mechanism for counties to handle the tax break. Taxpayers would see a clear tax-savings line-item on their annual property tax statements. Based on budget surplus projections, the governor's more conservative plan appears to be sustainable.

The Democrats' proposal is a pie-in-the-sky assumption that more state money for school districts would automatically translate into property tax relief. It's also very expensive -

$160 million for schools, compared to Hoeven's $60 million in additional funding for K-12 education.

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(The governor's property tax plan would cost the state an estimated

$116 million in direct relief to property owners.)

Neither plan has a ghost of a chance of emerging from the 2007 Legislature as initially proposed. There are as many ideas about property tax relief and education funding as there are lawmakers. When the property tax/school funding sausage machine goes to work, the finished product likely will be some sort of amalgam of several plans. That's what legislating is all about.

Finally, the Democrats' campaign to characterize the governor and Republican legislators as latecomers to the property tax relief/education funding debate is about as silly as it gets. Democratic leaders insist they have been pushing for more money for schools and tax relief for years, while the Republican majority in the Legislature sat on its hands. There's more to it than that.

Fact is, Republicans developed more generous school funding and property tax relief proposals only when they learned the surplus would exceed $500 million. When the state was not as flush with revenues, responsible leadership was careful to not overspend. In the past, Democrats apparently were willing to spend money the state did not have. North Dakotans should be relieved that Republicans took a more conservative approach during lean times. One result of such fiscal responsibility was that North Dakota was one of only three states that did not sink into red ink in the 1990s.

Now the surplus is huge. That's good news. Nonetheless, North Dakotans should be wary of Democratic spending schemes that might be politically attractive but certainly are fiscally reckless.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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