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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published April 11 2013

Bill would provide $714M in property tax relief

BISMARCK – Senate lawmakers passed a bill Thursday that would provide $714 million in property tax relief while increasing state aid to school districts.

Senators unanimously passed House Bill 1319, which would provide an average tax break of $60 for every $10,000 in house value, Sen. Tim Flakoll said, equating to about $600 for a house valued at $100,000.

At the same time, taxpayers and school districts would pay less toward education, as the bill provides $8,810 per student unit in 2014 and $9,092 in 2015.

“It’s a bold change that focuses on the cost of providing quality education across the state,” said Flakoll, R-Fargo. “Every student should have an established base of financial support behind them.”

The new formula starts with a local school district’s share. The bill caps the number of taxable mills at 50 and adds that to 75 percent of a school district’s revenue from areas such as land sales and tuition.

The state would then pay the difference between the district’s share and the per student payment of $8,810 next year.

A bulk of Thursday’s discussion centered on a proposal to increase the minimum teacher salary. It currently is $22,000, and the bill would bump it to $27,500.

Sen. Joan Heckamen, D-New Rockford, offered an amendment to raise it

to $32,000.

“It’s our time to step up to the plate and raise the average salary across the state,” she said. “We’re in a position to elevate teaching to the profession it is, and teachers to the professionals they are.”

Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, a teacher herself, disagreed with the amendment, arguing that it would place an undue burden on small school districts that would have to pay the salary, and are already nervous about the funding formula changes.

The amendment failed 31-14.

The bill also would spend $250 million to provide funding for school construction loans and reduce the amount of money a district can carry over from one year to another.

The bill is likely to go to a conference committee to address the House and Senate changes.

State aircraft

Most state aircraft would be under the Department of Transportation’s control, with universities and the adjutant general exempt, under a measure passed Thursday.

The Senate passed House Bill 1033 with a 42-2 vote.

The bill puts in place a system where the DOT is the central system for management of state aircraft and requires the department to sell or dispose of two old planes. The bill provides $4.5 million to purchase newer aircraft.

The bill also would create an Airplane Replacement Advisory Committee consisting of the DOT director, director of the aeronautics commission, director of the office of management and budget and two members of the legislative assembly.

The bill was proposed by the Legislature’s interim Government Services Committee after a study of state-owned and state-leased aircraft. The study was initiated, in large part, because of the

$2.3 million 1991 Beechcraft King Air B200 that North Dakota State University has leased since July 2007 for quarterly payments of $80,730.

The NDSU plane was exempt from the original legislation since the interim committee was told it was for sale, but the House tried to include it in the bill, and the Senate took it out.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, said the Senate Appropriations Committee felt the issue has been resolved.

Grand jury

The House passed a bill that would require more signatures to call a citizen grand jury to investigate potential criminal conduct and determine whether criminal charges should be brought.

In approving House Bill 1451 on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to Senate changes to the bill.

The bill, which passed 65-29, would increase the number of signatures needed from 10 percent to 25 percent of the total votes cast in the county for governor during the last general election. A petitioner would have to obtain at least 225 and no more than 5,000 signatures.

The bill also adds corrupt felonious misconduct to what the jury should inquire into regarding public officials.