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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 21 2013

Dems: North Dakota GOP not focused on property tax relief

BISMARCK – Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that Republicans need to focus on reducing property taxes for North Dakotans rather than cutting income and corporate taxes.

House Finance and Taxation Chair Rep. Wes Belter, R-Fargo, said the claim is “political rhetoric.”

“We have been focused on constructive tax policy,” Belter said after Democrats held a news conference.

Belter said that when the mid-session break arrives on March 1, the House “will have passed over $1 billion in tax relief.”

He said, “a bulk of relief will be to the citizens and not corporations.”

“We will be putting a sizable amount towards property tax relief,” Belter said. “The state will be paying 30 percent of property taxes after the session, so we’re making a tremendous effort there.”

The minority party is worried proposals could threaten the state’s ability to fund property tax relief in the future and hopes the money that is currently earmarked for corporations and personal income tax reductions can be put towards property tax relief.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, called the majority party’s approach a “shotgun approach that is somewhat unfocused.”

The Senate has a proposal on the table in Senate Bill 2156, which would provide $50 million in permanent cuts to corporate income tax. The number was doubled from Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s proposed $25 million. The bill would also double the reduction to personal income tax from $100 million to $200 million.

Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, said the Legislature has set a trend of cutting taxes over the past two legislative sessions, which he said is related to the state’s nationwide ranking of having top wages and low unemployment.

“The most important thing corporations look at in tax policy is certainty,” he said. “The certainty here is that taxes are going down.”

But Democratic Party members are worried proposals such as these are not adequately addressing relief concerns North Dakota residents want.

The Democrats’ senior member on the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, Sen. Jim Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere, said Thursday that the Legislature is in, “a very strong position for meaningful reductions,” but has, “taken an eye off the ball and lost focus.”

Dotzenrod has sponsored Senate Bill 2290, which would provide a residential property tax credit worth $1,125 or 50 percent of the taxable valuation of an individual’s primary residence, whichever is lower.

The state’s Department of Tax found that corporations saw an estimated

$58.9 million in income tax relief during the 2011-13 biennium.

Democratic lawmakers pointed out Thursday that many of these corporations are not based in the state, with the tax department indicating 2,026 corporations are North Dakota- based and 2,219 are based out of state.

“We don’t mind good things happening to corporations,” Schneider said. “When it comes to tax cuts, people of North Dakota should be first. We’re not dealing with unlimited resources.”

Belter said there shouldn’t be a difference between in-state and out-of-state business.

He said North Dakota has had a strong business climate as a result of its tax policy, which has helped draw businesses such as Microsoft, Bobcat and John Deere.

“I don’t think it’s good public policy to attack those hiring the citizens of North Dakota,” Belter said. “It’s important to have a solid business climate.”


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