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Lloyd Omdahl, Published May 19 2012

Omdahl: Measure 2 deserves ‘no’ vote

Because proponents of the property tax repeal have taken comments by former Gov. Ed Schafer and me out of context, we have issued a joint statement making it clear that we are opposed to Measure 2.

Some of our past statements have been used widely by the sponsoring committee to create the impression that we favor repeal of the property tax. We want the record to be clear: We both will be voting “no” on Measure 2.

In our joint statement, we made several major points. Our primary concern is the loss of local control by school boards, county commissions, city governing boards, township supervisors and other local officials. Local control is a North Dakota tradition worth protecting.

We find the language of the measure dangerously vague. It directs the Legislature to “fully and properly fund” local services without defining the meaning of “fully and properly.” Apparently, the Legislature will have to make this important decision for local governments.

We are convinced that the Legislature does not have the time to deal with the particular needs of 2,100 local governments. It will be forced to adopt a “one-size-fits-all” formula that will not fit the needs of the wide range of local governments. Under one-size-fits-all, some local governments will get too much and some will get too little.

In addition to the reservations Schafer and I shared about this measure, there are other issues that must also be addressed.

Some supporters of Measure 2 keep claiming that the measure is a tax cut, when the language clearly states that the Legislature must replace the lost revenue for schools, cities, counties, townships and other local governments. This mandate means that Measure 2 is a tax shift and not a tax cut.

In other words, the supporters of this measure want somebody else to pay for their schools, their law enforcement, their fire protection, their ambulances, their roads and their other local government services. That is what this tax shift means.

Another bogus issue has been created: In an attempt to spread fear among older taxpayers, supporters are talking about the low-income elderly getting thrown out of their homes because they can’t pay their property taxes. This is not happening now, nor will it happen in the future.

The Legislature has already established a program to help keep the low-income elderly in their homes. Under the homestead credit legislation, low-income elderly can get their property taxes reduced. This credit can be expanded if the need arises.

This argument assumes that property taxes are going to be increased when, in reality, the opposite has been happening. The Legislature has been reducing property taxes. In the last session, it provided more than $300 million through the school system to reduce property taxes.

The reductions have been significant. Six years ago, we paid $4,300 in property taxes on our residence. Last year, we paid $3,800. Since there has been no change in our assessment, we know that the reduction came from the tax cuts provided by the Legislature. This tax cut has occurred for taxpayers all across the state.

On the basis of the Legislature’s record in reducing property taxes, we can expect future sessions to look at the state’s needs and its income. It will keep balancing the taxes we pay. A gradual biennial reduction is far better than one radical action, especially when we can’t know all of the unintended consequences.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher.

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