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Published August 15 2010

Nelson: You really don’t own your home

You don’t own your house, farm or business, even if you’ve paid for them. You will never own them or any kind of real estate as long as you must pay taxes on them. As long as you must pay the government taxes on your land and buildings, it doesn’t matter how many mortgages are paid off and closed, how many banks are satisfied with the payments, or what contracts you’ve fulfilled. You will still be, essentially, leasing from the government. Miss a couple of yearly payments, and everything you own in real estate is taken from you. Bankruptcy won’t take your house, but the government will.

Property taxes are an oddity. We don’t have to pay a yearly tax on, say, our refrigerators; once paid, they are ours for good against all comers. But for some reason, perhaps from mind-stultifying habit, we don’t wonder why we have to keep paying forever for our property and dwellings.

Mortgages are finite, but payments to the government are forever. Why do we suffer a system that doesn’t allow us to keep what we have paid for? The Empower the Taxpayer petition drive failed to get enough signatures this time in North Dakota to modify the state Constitution to do away with property taxes. That’s too bad, contrary to The Forum Editorial Board’s thinking on the matter, which consistently skews in favor of large banking, business and political interests. I wish the issue could at least have been voted on by North Dakota’s electorate.

For full disclosure, my wife is heavily involved in this effort. But what I say is my own opinion and doesn’t necessarily represent anything the ETT holds.

I favor the principle of subsidiarity – that concerns at certain societal levels should be handled at those levels. Eliminating property taxes means, in my opinion, raising taxes elsewhere as well as losing local control over how those funds are spent. But just how much control do we have over local property taxes and their uses as things now stand?

Suppose property taxes were abolished by being folded into other state taxes. If the overall level of taxation in North Dakota remained the same after eliminating property taxes, but we could now really own real estate, not just lease it from the government forever, doesn’t that strike you as a wonderful deal? Some will object: What if tax revenue fell? Well, the same thing that’s happening now across nearly all of the nation’s states (all of which have property taxes, by the way): They would either have to increase taxes or cut spending, but without having to take our homes.

For me, the big picture is that for the same overall level of taxes, we could all be owners of our property, not just government tenants.

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary pages. E-mail r.cnelson@702com.net