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Published June 02 2012

Nelson: Bias, scare stories tilt the debate

There are two problems with North Dakota Measure 2, the proposed constitutional amendment to abolish property taxes: It’s a big change for the better, but that can still understandably unnerve people. It’s also an idea that requires research, not just believing scare stories from biased sources. Spend an hour or two informing yourself.

The Forum Editorial Board wrote that the coal companies will protest paying conversion taxes if M2 passes, thus the measure’s a bad idea. A quick trip to YesM2’s website FAQ answers that exact point, and links the reader to a Legislative Council report which states that M2 prohibits only taxes on “assessed value of real or personal property.” Minerals needn’t apply. The same Forum that classily compared M2 to excrement hasn’t informed itself about the measure, and thus its criticisms are worthless.

Check how property tax assessments work. The Scheels Arena land was donated to the Fargo Park District “to shield it from property taxes.” Sure, let grandma take up the slack on her home’s property taxes. The new Menards store in Williston, N.D., is getting tax increment financing, a property tax relief of almost $1.5 million.

The Grand Forks County Commission exempted a private company receiving Grand Forks Air Force Base housing of any property taxes. We don’t want multimillionaires to pay property tax, do we? Grand Forks taxpayers will understand.

One argument against M2 says it’s dangerously vague. Like many, the authors misunderstand the point of a constitution. It acknowledges or restricts some power or right, but typically doesn’t go into detail as to its execution.

Like Cass County Auditor Michael Montplaisir, columnist Lloyd Omdahl tells us there are already programs to help the elderly keep their homes if they can’t pay property taxes. Why can’t we just let all of us keep the homes we’ve paid for already? How nice that the government gives us a hand to pay taxes forever on property we’ve paid off.

Tax Commissioner Cory Fong’s numbers in The Forum show that out-of-state businesses paid 60 percent of our state’s total corporate income tax in 2010 and 25 percent of the first three quarters total sales tax in 2011, to the combined adjusted tune of about $292 million yearly. We gain far more with incoming businesses than we lose in property tax if the measure passes.

But suppose worst comes to worst, and every penny lost in abolished property taxes must be made up elsewhere. Our overall taxes after M2 are as high as before. But now we, not the government, get to truly own our property. What’s wrong with that?

Nelson is a Fargo postal worker and regular contributor to The Forum’s commentary page. Email nelsonfamilynd@gmail.com.