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ND state candidates discuss tax relief, education

Lowering property and income taxes, providing more state funding for education and affordable housing were among the topics debated by candidates for the North Dakota State Legislature at a forum Thursday night.

All 10 candidates for both the House and Senate in Districts 17 and 43 of the state legislature attended the forum, held at Grand Forks City Hall.

While most candidates advocated for these things as well as developing the local workforce, providing funding for the Grand Forks water treatment plant and infrastructure statewide, there were a few areas of contention between opponents in each of the races.

State House

Republican incumbents Mark Sanford and Mark Owens face Democratic challenger Edward Grossbauer in the District 17 race.

Grossbauer was quick to point out the voting records of his two opponents, who he said didn’t support an increase in the percentage of state aid distributed to local governments. He also said he wanted to exempt the first $75,000 or $100,000 of house value for property sessions, which he said his opponents voted against. Finally, he attacked those in the past legislature who voted to reduce the oil extraction tax.

“That’s not responsible government in my eyes,” he said.

Sanford advocated for workforce development, especially through two-year schools. He said a strong workforce would help alleviate other issues in the state. He also advocated strong funding for all levels of education, including a program that would result in nearly $2 billion in schools in two years through new weighted per-pupil investments.

Owens said the Legislature’s main priority for the next session hadn’t changed from the past two: Find a way to provide sustainability to developing infrastructure and taxation. He said this could be done by stabilizing the state’s income, which would be important when establishing priorities on how to use the state’s revenue.

He also pointed out that property tax relief has increased greatly over the past six years and he hoped to continue that.

For District 43, Democratic incumbent Lois Delmore spoke with newcomers Kyle Thorson, also a Democrat, and Republicans Rich Becker and Shelby Wood. The other current state representative, Republican Curtiss Kreun, chose not to run for re-election.

The main point of contention among these four candidates was on how to handle the state’s current income tax, and the difference was split along party lines. Both Delmore and Thorson said they hadn’t heard for a call to eliminate the income tax while doing door-to-door campaigning, but rather wanted to focus on lowering property taxes. Thorson said he thought eliminating the income tax would be a “short-sighted solution.”

On the other hand, Becker and Wood both said they would be in favor of continual decreases and an eventual elimination of the tax so that district residents will save more money.

State Senate

In the state Senate portion of the race, Republican incumbent Sen. Lonnie Laffen debated with former state Sen. JoNell Bakke, D-Grand Forks, about Laffen’s voting record on tax relief for oil companies. Laffen is competing against Bakke in District 43.

Bakke claimed that Laffen’s support of the oil tax cut was irresponsible because it would’ve resulted in a loss of $1.3 billion in revenue for the first five years of the cut. Laffen rebutted by saying the bill was proposed to help close a tax loophole that oil companies would be able to use in the future to avoid taxes.

Differences aside, both agreed that Measure 5, which would direct a percentage of oil tax revenue into a conservation fund, wasn’t the proper way to allocate money to conservationism.

Republican State Sen. Ray Holmberg is running uncontested in District 17, but he still offered a few comments at the end of the forum. He said North Dakota is facing a challenge of how to handle an abundance. He had one tongue-in-cheek suggestion for his fellow candidates heading into the 2015 session.

“Chill,” he said. “It takes a long time to put these programs and ideas together. There is a lot on the line for Grand Forks next session.”

For those who missed the forum, it will be replayed on the city television channel at 7 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday up until the election.

Garrett Richie
Garrett Richie is a general assignment reporter and digital writer for The Grand Forks Herald. Richie is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is formerly of The Ludington Daily News in Ludington, Mich. Have a good story idea? Contact Richie by either phone or email, both of which are listed below. If you would like to comment on a story, send a letter to the editor with Richie's name and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words, and all letters are subject to editing. Email to letters@gfherald.com or mail to The Grand Forks Herald.
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