OUR OPINION: The case against Measure 2
In all of the commentary on Measure 2, the critiques by two state's attorneys stand out. Maybe that's because the prosecutors are used to dismantling testimony and making witnesses squirm on the stand. In any event, the cases are worth reviewing,...
In all of the commentary on Measure 2, the critiques by two state's attorneys stand out.
Maybe that's because the prosecutors are used to dismantling testimony and making witnesses squirm on the stand.
In any event, the cases are worth reviewing, especially because they're just about unanswerable. So, if you want to learn more about a proposal whose supporters casually discuss the possible layoff of 12,000 public sector workers, read on.
The Beacon Hill Institute's recent study predicts tremendous benefits if North Dakota eliminates property taxes, writes Brett Narloch of the North Dakota Policy Council in a Herald column: "In 2013, private employment would increase more than 13,000, private investment would increase nearly $1 billion, and real disposable income would increase $1,430 per capita."
But as Grand Forks County State's Attorney Peter Welte points out (also in a Herald column), there actually are two Beacon Hill reports, and their predictions are very different.
The original report in 2010 looked at three Measure 2 scenarios. In the first, North Dakota does not increase sales taxes at all. Good things happen, including an increase of nearly 12,000 private sector jobs.
But "this is offset by a drop of 11,908 public sector jobs at the state and local governments," the report notes.
And because the state government employs only 15,500 full-timers, that's going to be some offset.
The second and third scenarios imagine North Dakota boosting sales taxes to recover the lost property tax revenue. In both cases, North Dakota loses jobs, "the gains to real disposable income fall" and "many of the private sector benefits would be tempered or become negative," according to the report.
Again, that's the 2010 report. The 2012 report -- the one Narloch cites -- offers a fourth scenario. And it's a whole lot rosier than the first three.
That's because it imagines neither public-sector layoffs nor sales tax hikes. Instead, "the state's surpluses enable it to absorb the new commitment without threatening other state government priorities and without the need to increase or add any new taxes," according to the report.
Uh-huh. And the oil always flows, fields always flower and Canadian credit-cards always fly. But back here on Earth, things moving in cycles, and surpluses evaporate. When that happens, North Dakota would be back to scenarios 1, 2 or 3.
In a blog post, McLean County State's Attorney Ladd Erickson looks at the language of Measure 2. For example, what does it mean when supporters say schools would be "fully funded"?
It means, the measure states, that the Legislature shall "fund the share of elementary and secondary education not funded through state revenue sources before 2012."
"Before 2012." Note those words, Erickson writes.
They mean "the Legislature is only required to replace whatever property taxes that were levied by school districts 'before 2012.'" So, if Williston needs more classrooms because of growth, "nothing requires the state to fund those added expenses if they weren't levied for in 2011."
Over the years, Measure 2 is "transparently designed to squeeze out public education funding' because "the state funding is fixed in time," Erickson writes.
"That's why it's terrible civics to date-stamp things into our Constitution."
Other language in the measure funds cities, counties and so on "according to a formula devised by the legislative assembly to fully and properly fund" the subdivisions' obligations.
But that means the Legislature decides what the obligations are, what the formulas will be and how to "fully and properly fund" them.
Subdivisions that get the shaft can sue, supporters say. But "under Measure 2, there won't be any property taxes" to pay for the lawsuits, Erickson notes.
So, a city would have to approach the Legislature, hat in hand, to beg for money with which to sue ... the Legislature.
"How's that supposed to work?" he asks.
"Despite all the Nigerian-style 'You'll win the lottery' claims, in the end, Measure 2 radically changes our state Constitution and deletes 120 years of history in how we fund basic health, safety and private property protections," Erickson writes. The prosecution rests.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald