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OUR OPINION: Hoeven's tax relief proposal remains sound

North Dakota lawmakers remain at odds among themselves and with much of the state over property taxes. Maybe it's time for the lawmakers to come full circle, and get back to the plan that started it all. That would be the plan introduced last fal...

North Dakota lawmakers remain at odds among themselves and with much of the state over property taxes.

Maybe it's time for the lawmakers to come full circle, and get back to the plan that started it all. That would be the plan introduced last fall by Gov. John Hoeven and Tax Commissioner Cory Fong. It remains the only plan so far that has earned both bipartisan and statewide support.

Lawmakers should consider fully adopting it now as the default or consensus view.

The Hoeven/Fong plan has a lot to offer. For one thing, it provides real property tax relief. Among other things, the plan calls for North Dakota to rebate 10 percent of homeowners' local property taxes; homeowners would get a check for that sum, which is the functional equivalent of getting a 10 percent tax cut.

Especially because Hoeven and Fong engineered the plan (and the rest of the state budget) to be sustainable over the long term.

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The second advantage of the Hoeven/Fong plan is that it already has been approved statewide. In the fall, Fong - a Republican who had been in office for only a year at the time - faced a skilled and determined Democratic opponent.

Fong chose to make the property tax rebate plan the centerpiece of his campaign, and in an otherwise Democratic year, he won.

As for the governor, Survey USA's March 21 tracking poll pegs Hoeven's approval rating at 76 percent. As in the fall, that makes him the most popular governor in the United States - again, an upbeat verdict on the governor and Fong's plan.

The third advantage of the original Hoeven/Fong plan is that it avoids the most divisive element of the current tax debate: a cap on local property taxes.

Recently, Hoeven himself has lent support to Republican lawmakers' property-tax-cap proposals. But that support is lukewarm, and we suspect the governor wouldn't object if the proposals got removed.

Consider the people who've lined up against the idea of capping local property taxes. City, county and school district leaders - elected officials all - strongly and uniformly oppose it. State Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, waved off those concerns, noting in a recent news story that only mayors, school board members, county commissioners and other local officials had complained - not people on the street.

But those officials represent people on the street and are speaking up for their constituents' interests. For example, Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker - one of the strongest critics - earned more votes in winning election than did any legislator, even including State Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, who ran unopposed.

Besides, if the local officials' protests aren't enough, consider the position of the state Chamber of Commerce - the Economic Development Association of North Dakota, as it's now called. The group represents North Dakota businesses, whose interests depend entirely on the state fostering a pro-business, pro-growth, pro-free-market environment.

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How does the EDND feel about local property tax caps?

The organization is against them.

Pro-business, pro-growth and pro-market Republicans, take note.

Make no mistake, property taxes are a bad way to pay for some local services especially schools. Income taxes are much more fair and more readily accepted, which is why the federal and state governments rely on them.

But local governments can't levy income taxes, by order of - you guessed it - the state Legislature. Why would the Legislature also want to cap property taxes, and so throttle even further local governments' ability to plow streets, catch criminals and educate students?

The Hoeven/Fong plan responds to North Dakotans' property tax anguish by offering real property tax relief. State lawmakers should recognize a good thing when they see it and pass that consensus-building proposal into law.

- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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