RALPH KINGSBURY: With Measure 2, N.D. faces landmark fork in the road
It's only a primary election. But it'll be one of the most important elections in a long time in North Dakota. What makes this election so important, what gives it the potential to make a gigantic change in North Dakota governance is the initiate...
It's only a primary election. But it'll be one of the most important elections in a long time in North Dakota.
What makes this election so important, what gives it the potential to make a gigantic change in North Dakota governance is the initiated measure that calls for the elimination of property taxes in the state.
Nothing in my lifetime has had the potential to so change taxation and spending in the state as this measure.
The lifelong politicians in North Dakota will remind you of the elimination of the personal property tax system, but all they really did with that was raise the real property taxes enough to make up the difference. Every change in the past has just been grade-school math. This time, it is the real thing, and it has them scared.
For most residents of North Dakota, local and state spending comes down to schools and roads. Roads are mostly financed by gas taxes collected under authority of both the state and federal government at the gas pump; nothing very hard about that.
In fact, it is so easy that a few sessions ago and after promising again and again that the gas tax never would be used for anything but roads, the Legislature tried to raid the road fund for other purposes.
As I recall, they got the message and never tried that again.
As for property taxes, we all know how they work -- or we think we do. We know how much they are up from last year. We know that if we have a mortgage, our bank will tell us how much the monthly payments have to go up because of the increase in taxes and specials.
If we don't owe the bank, we still get those property tax statements just before Christmas. That's in case we want to make an early payment in order to lower our state and federal income taxes, a strategy that works only for one year.
I never understood people falling for that, by the way. Of course, back in the days when there were a lot of different levels of taxes, and if you were "lucky" enough to make less money next year than this year ... oh well, never mind. But it really is a sham.
Merry Christmas, I always thought. Not very good politics, I always thought. But again, I never could understand otherwise intelligent people falling for that year after year.
In any event, Measure 2 does have some degree of attractiveness. In fact, I wrote an earlier column that -- while not supporting the measure -- stated some of the reasons for support. I said the measure deserved some serious thought.
As someone who always has believed property taxes were the least fair of all taxes, and as someone who agrees with most of the stated problems and wrongs of property taxes, I am sorry to say I am going to vote no on Measure 2.
Why will I vote this way? One reason: While those writing the initiated measure did eliminate the problems concerning property taxation, they replaced them with problems of state appropriations.
In fact, we are already doing moving in that direction; I refer Herald readers to the so-called wildlife proposal, which would use oil taxes for wildlife projects. Things like that will just keep happening until the surplus is gone, and there won't be any money to plow the roads -- just like Minnesota.
Based on votes they cast, I think my county commissioners and School Board members represent my thinking more than the Legislature as a whole does.
A better solution would for the state to provide local government with a higher percentage of program spending than they have, such as the state does now with elementary and secondary education.
On the other hand, if this election goes the other way, I will not be too disappointed. Maybe Measure 2 supporters are smarter or at least braver then me.
Kingsbury can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .