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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published May 03 2013

House kills K-12 funding, property tax relief bill on second try

BISMARCK – A funding plan for North Dakota’s K-12 schools and the prospects for more property tax relief hung in limbo Friday evening after House lawmakers defeated the bill early on the last day of the legislative session.

The vote reversed the previous day’s passage of Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s proposal to increase state aid to K-12 school districts while providing about $714 million in property tax relief.

A third vote on House Bill 1319 remained a possibility as legislators met late Friday.

The vote tallied 46-46 with two not voting; it needed 48 votes to pass.

The two absent members were both Democrats, Bill Amerman of Forman and Steven Zaiser of Fargo. No Democrats voted against the bill.

It had passed 49-42, with three members absent, Thursday.

“I’m very disappointed, it was a good education plan,” said Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction. “Unfortunately there was a lot of talk of representing many groups of citizens, with very little talk of representing the 100,000-student population that are as much North Dakota citizens as any other.”

Conference committees were meeting Friday evening on other bills that could address K-12 funding and property tax relief.

If no K-12 budget were to pass, schools would continue to receive funding under the current plan, which allocates $3,980 per student. The bill would have bumped that to $8,810 per student during the first year of the biennium, an increase of $4,830.

Baesler said the state spent $918.5 million on student payments during the current biennium and would have spent $1.1 billion if the bill passed.

She noted that $341.8 million in property tax relief was delivered through the 2011 payments. The bill would have provided $714 million.

While disappointed, Baesler pointed out that provisions of the bill could be placed in other bills.

The budget for the Office of Management and Budget is often the last bill to pass, so lawmakers can add various provisions that were defeated earlier in the session.

Moments after the vote, Democratic leaders issued a news release calling the bill’s defeat “legislative malpractice from a caucus leader and a group of followers who have become absolutely unglued,” referring to House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo.

“This is not a game, this is serious,” said Democratic leaders. “This threatens one of the most basic functions of government – the public education of North Dakota children. We urge Representative Carlson to reverse course before further damage is done.”

Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, came out against the bill during its original debate Thursday, saying it doesn’t have enough tax reform.

He muffled Friday’s argument that many said the bill needed to be passed since it was the last day of the session.

“When it comes down to doing the right thing, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes,” he said.

Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, chaired the bill’s conference committee. Pushing for the bill, he asked the House body where its plan was for property tax relief.

“We had a whole year to come up with a property tax relief plan,” he said. “Now we come up with it on day 80, I don’t see the logic in that.”

Dalrymple’s office issued a statement Friday afternoon regarding K-12 funding.

“We’re very hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to compromise on their differences. The ball’s in their court.”

Another bill provided an option for property tax relief.

The House passed an amended Senate Bill 2036 on April 18, but hung onto it to force the Senate to pass it on the last day.

The bill creates a property tax credit equal to 18 percent of the amount of property taxes on all taxable properties. The credits are paid for through the Property Tax Relief Sustainability Fund, to which the bill adds $341 million.