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By Dale Wetzel, Associated Press, Published March 26 2011

Amendment would abolish property taxes

BISMARCK – Backers of a constitutional amendment to abolish North Dakota property taxes believe they have enough petition signatures to put the idea on the ballot, even though the number they thought they needed has risen.

The proposed amendment’s supporters delivered almost 1,000 petitions, bearing what they said were more than 27,800 names, to Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office Friday.

Jaeger has until April 29 to review the documents and determine whether there are enough names to qualify for the ballot. If the signature goal is met, the amendment would go to a statewide vote in June 2012.

“It’s a new idea. It’s something a lot of people hadn’t even considered until we put it in front of them,” said Charlene Nelson, of Casselton, who is chairwoman of the initiative campaign.

The amendment bars the state and local governments from levying any property tax, beginning Jan. 1. It says the Legislature must use other revenue sources, such as taxes on sales, income and energy, to decide how to replace the revenue that local governments will lose.

North Dakota’s Constitution allows voters to bypass the Legislature and put a constitutional amendment directly to a vote if the proposal’s supporters can gather enough petition signatures.

The minimum number of signatures is pegged at 4 percent of the number of North Dakota residents counted during the last federal census.

When Jaeger approved the petition for circulation on March 29, 2010, the most recent census count listed 642,200 North Dakota residents on April 1, 2000. That meant supporters of the constitutional amendment needed at least 25,688 eligible North Dakota voters to sign the petition.

In December, the Census Bureau announced that North Dakota’s population had been counted as 672,591 residents on April 1, 2010, an increase of 4.7 percent. That raised the minimum number of petition signatures needed to 26,904.

On Thursday, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem issued a legal opinion affirming the new number. Nelson said the change meant the amendment’s supporters have a cushion of about 900 names, instead of more than 2,000.

The deadline for turning in signatures does not arrive until midnight Tuesday, and backers of the amendment plan to gather more names to turn in before then, Nelson said.

“Right now our margin is not bad, but I’d like to see a little bit more,” she said.

Property owners were billed $774.6 million in property taxes in 2009, according to the most recent North Dakota Tax Department data. Local school districts’ share was about 41 percent, while cities billed 28 percent and counties 26 percent, the data say.

The state collected only $2.2 million in property tax, or 0.3 percent, on a tiny levy that benefits the University of North Dakota’s medical school.

By comparison, the state collected $883.3 million in sales taxes during its 2010 budget year, which ended June 30, according to the state’s most recent comprehensive annual financial report.

Individual and corporate income taxes raised $380.1 million during the same period, while taxes on oil, natural gas and coal raised $633.5 million.

Property taxes on a person’s home means he or she never owns it, even after its mortgage is paid, Nelson said. The annual property tax bill is due regardless of a person’s income, while taxes on income and sales depend on the amount of money a person has to spend, she said.


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