Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Supporters Say Property Tax Measure Needed To Diversify States Economy

Written by Plains Daily Report. Posted in Plains Daily Exclusives
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Published on October 24, 2011 with 0 Comments and 0 Reactions
BISMARCK, ND – An initiated measure to abolish property taxes that will be on the June ballot in 2012 is drawing opposition from an unlikely source. The North Dakota Chamber of Commerce says that while they are for lower taxes, abolishing the property tax would have too many unintended consequences.
“The property tax thing is really unsustainable, we said that in the last [legislative] session,” said state Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson referring to property tax reform started under former Governor John Hoeven which saw the state buying down local property taxes. “This proposal, however, is really fraught with unintended consequences. That’s what we’re concerned about.”
Peterson says that abolishing property taxes could lead to increases in other taxes. “We’d like to lower all these taxes, but you have to have a plan. In theory it sounds good, we all want to get there, but in practice I don’t think it’s the most practical ideal.”
But Charlie Tuttle, a spokesman for the group backing the measure called Empower the Taxpayer, says that Peterson’s concerns are unfounded. “‘Chicken little, the sky is falling’ is what we keep hearing from these guys,” said Tuttle. “The revenues we’ll generate [from abolishing property taxes] will grow those other tax revenues.”
“If you eliminate the property tax you’ll have growth in sales tax revenue.”
North Dakota would be the first state in the nation to abolish property taxes if the measure passes, and Tuttle says it’s the solution North Dakota needs after tinkering with property taxes for decades. “When you’ve tried to fix something 180 times, which we’ve done with property taxes since 1980, you start using it for target practice.”
Peterson says he agrees that property taxes are a problem, but is worried that a dramatic change in policy could hurt things like local control and school funding. “Property taxes are high here in North Dakota and I think it’s a significant issue we all have to be concerned about,” he said. “I’m debating whether or not it’s a good thing to pass 70% of the control of the school budget to the state is a good idea.
“The area with the biggest legislative delegation is going to swing a pretty big ax.”
But Tuttle says the state already has control over school spending. “What’s really interesting is you say the schools are funded by property taxes. That’s not true in North Dakota any more, the state funds 70% of the schools,” he said. “The 70% has already been done, 70% is already in control of the state.” Tuttle also said that the measure, if passed, would fund schools through block grants with local officials and not state officials deciding how the funds are spent.
“What this will do by eliminating the property tax, it will give back local control,” said Tuttle. “Look at who is fighting this vehemently. It’s the state legislators who don’t want to lose control and give it back to the local.”
Both Tuttle and Peterson agree that North Dakota’s economy has been strong, but Tuttle says North Dakotans need to do something to diversify the economy should political or market fortunes turn on the state’s energy and agriculture sectors. “We want to diversity the industry in North Dakota so that…we’re not dependent on oil, gas and agriculture.”
But Peterson maintains that the property tax measure is the wrong sort of reform, suggesting that a slower approach with involvement from the business community would be better. “What we’re talking about is putting together a blue ribbon commission with partes vested in this thing and come up with a detailed plan on sales taxes and property taxes and say where we ought to be with this thing in five or ten years.”
“You’ve got to take this comprehensive approach to this.”
Both men appeared on the Scott Hennen Show this morning to debate the issue, which will be Measure 2 on the June 2012 ballot. More information about the measure can be found at EmpowerTheTaxpayer.com, a website set up by its supporters.

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