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Burgum-backed income tax relief plan advances despite opposition from GOP leadership

A proposal to give up to $500 in rebates to North Dakota income tax payers, which was first rolled out by Gov. Doug Burgum last month, was introduced to the Legislature's special session by a broad floor vote on Tuesday.

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North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, right, speaks at a bill signing on April 26, 2021, in the state Capitol. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, left, looks on. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday, Nov. 9 to provide rebates to state income taxpayers, a late-game addition to the special session that has been vocally backed by Gov. Doug Burgum but opposed by top Republicans in the Legislature.

The proposal, which was brought to the House floor Tuesday afternoon by Bismarck Republican Rep. Pat Heinert, would provide up to $500 in income tax relief over two years to North Dakotans by drawing on surplus state revenues from the last budget cycle. Heinert's bill mirrors an idea that Burgum first rolled out in September , and which the second-term Republican has continued to push up to his state of the state address that kicked off the legislative special session on Monday morning.

“In my opinion, we need to do this for the people of North Dakota,” Heinert told House colleagues. “I am hopeful that people will utilize these funds to maybe save some money, maybe help someone else out with a donation, maybe purchase a needed item for their own household, or just maybe take their family out for a good meal.”

Heinert’s bill was introduced by a broad 83-7 majority, even though top Republican lawmakers had voiced their opposition to the Burgum proposal several times in recent months.

In a press conference Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he continues to oppose plans to draw money out of the state's flush coffers, citing possible sudden hits to the economy like last year's crash in oil prices. Wardner said he wants to look at lowering taxes when the Legislature returns to Bismarck for a full session in 2023, but he said he thinks property taxes may be a better avenue than income tax.

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Offering rebates now could also cut into the state’s capacity to make a more permanent property tax change in 2023, he added.

“I didn’t realize that we had as many House members that are in step with the governor, but they are,” Wardner said of the support the bill garnered in the lower chamber.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, has similarly said in recent months that he favors more permanent changes to lower taxes and doesn't see the special session as the time to tackle those. But on Tuesday Pollert voted for the introduction of Heinert's bill and said he thinks the idea should get a look by lawmakers.

Momentum was building for tax relief proposals on Tuesday, Pollert said, and "sometimes you don’t get in front of a locomotive.”

Mike Nowatzki, a spokesman for Burgum, said the governor is “very much” in support of the proposal brought by Heinert, and open to discussions about more permanent changes further down the line.

Burgum has pushed for the income tax rebate proposal on numerous occasions in recent months, and plugged the idea again in his state of the state address on Monday morning.

“We can afford to do it, we should want to do it and the hardworking taxpayers of North Dakota certainly deserve it,” he told lawmakers.

The income tax relief proposal was introduced on the same day that separate proposals to permanently cut the state’s income tax on Social Security benefits also drew late introductions in each chamber.

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Similar bills to provide long-term tax relief to older North Dakotans enrolled on Social Security were put forward in both the House and Senate chambers, and both cleared the two-thirds margin for late introduction.

One proposal, brought by Minot Republican Sen. David Hogue, was knocked down at a delayed bills committee the day before but was introduced in a 35-12 from the Senate floor. The House proposal, brought by Minot Republican Rep. Larry Bellew, was introduced with a 77-12 vote.

Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com .

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