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By Scott Hennen, Published April 08 2012

Measure 2 jump-starts tax debate

By Scott Hennen

I’m opposed to Measure 2. But the decision didn’t come easily.

As a student of Milton Friedman, I believe that free markets coupled with a limited government are the cornerstones of a healthy economy. I can relate to the proponents of Measure 2 in principle, but not in practice. Folks are understandably outraged with North Dakota’s excessively high property taxes, and local government not being held accountable for reckless spending decisions. And we have a right to be outraged; just because we can afford to be foolish with our money now doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand and accept bad policy as the status quo. But is Measure 2 the answer? No way, José. But don’t take my word for it. Just ask your former governor, Ed Schafer.

Back in March, the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce hosted a conference exploring the issue from both sides. Among the panel of respected legislators, business leaders and concerned citizens sat Schafer, who withheld his comments until the end of the event. When the time came – and with the grace and civility of a true statesman – Schafer told the capacity crowd that he would vote “no” on Measure 2.

Before he explained his decision, Schafer applauded the measure’s supporters. He acknowledged that without their passionate, thoughtful arguments, we wouldn’t be focusing on a huge problem this state desperately needs to address. He didn’t try to scare anybody into voting “no” – he didn’t peddle lazy political hysteria of the “vote this down and you won’t have any fire trucks” sort; see, Schafer knows something about life in the real world economy. He ran the legendary Gold Seal Sales Company, founded by his father, the great patron of Medora, Harold Schafer (Mr. Bubble anyone?). So when Schafer speaks, everyone listens.

And Schafer’s got the credibility to back up his position. Remember the old “Schafer Means Business” mantra? It wasn’t just a campaign slogan – he actually did it. His leadership paved the way for the miraculous economic conditions we’re experiencing, and he understands the political hazards that could compromise our success if we strip power away from local sources.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Measure 2 would do. It seizes power from the locally elected political bodies, and consolidates it to the hands of the Legislature. In exchange for tax relief, we sacrifice the autonomy of over 2,000 local government units. The state legislature won’t be qualified to spend our tax dollars effectively on the deluge of unique challenges facing each individual community. There must be a better way to alleviate the tax burden on property holders in North Dakota.

Perhaps Schafer can inspire other concerned taxpayers to craft an alternative that accomplishes what both sides strive for: real reform that protects and advances our state’s prosperity for generations to come.

Vote no on Measure 2.

Hennen is president/CEO, Freedom Force Communications, and host/chairman, Common Sense Club/Scott Hennen Show.