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Ross Nelson, Published May 05 2012

Nelson: Measure 2 is about a principle

The disclaimer first: I’m married to one of Measure 2’s (the constitutional initiative to do away with property tax) principal spokeswomen. That gives me a ringside view, but I do not speak for nor represent the 2 group in any way.

My take is that Measure 2 is desirable but would entail huge changes. Property tax – the tax that never goes down when you’re sick, retired or injured, unlike other taxes – is an abomination. It means you will pay forever for your home and property to a government landlord. According to Tax Commissioner Cory Fong, property tax revenue is predicted to go up 7.7 percent yearly, indefinitely, far outstripping inflation.

Let a thousand questions bloom about Measure 2. Unfortunately, someone’s been spoonfeeding nonsense to North Dakotans. Rather than yelling the sky is falling by claiming unpaid firefighters and cops, degraded roads, and the tearing of nursing babes from their mothers’ bosoms will be Measure 2’s result, these residents should inform themselves. They might still disagree with Measure 2 afterward, but at least they’ll be knowledgeable as to why.

Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir asserts that the county bailed out several owners of the dozens of properties seized, allowed others to scrape up enough to just beat the deadline (regardless whether they owned the property outright, the government was still reaching for it), took mostly unoccupied land (but that’s all right, too – it was just somebody’s property, right?), and generally assisted property owners as much as possible.

All that assistance for a tax that bureaucrats across North Dakota say is not a problem. Montplaisir’s own words betray his position.

Measure 2’s opponents have gone down in flames on the money issue – they don’t contradict former Gov. Ed Schafer’s argument that the money is there to cover property tax removal. Local control is the rallying ground now. We old-time conservatives believe in the motto “stick with the devil you know.” The subsidiary principle is a staple for us, too – that any activity should be done at the lowest effective level of organization possible. So why would a conservative favor Measure 2?

Because there is far less local control over property tax levels and spending than most people suspect. The state funds most schooling, sets caps on mill rates and already requires municipalities and townships to go to it for permission to raise mill levies beyond a certain point, no matter the need.

Private property ownership, i.e., real ownership, is more important than local control. It’s more important for liberty’s sake, since there’s no property security under a government that holds perpetual title to your land; and for establishing the principle that once you buy something, it’s really yours.

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page.