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Erik Burgess, Published May 07 2013

ND gov signs bill granting $250M in property tax relief

FARGO – With the swipe of a pen, Gov. Jack Dalrymple on Tuesday put some of the prosperity of North Dakota back into the pockets of its taxpayers.

The governor signed Senate Bill 2156, which grants $250 million in property tax relief to North Dakotans, at a legislative wrap-up event here sponsored by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce.

Dalrymple applauded the efforts of state legislators, who were in session for 80 days, the most allowed by state constitution and the longest session in state history.

“In 80 days, a lot was decided,” he said. “A lot was achieved, and tax relief is just one of many things to be proud of.”

House Majority Leader Rep. Al Carlson, Sen. Tony Grindberg and Sen. Tim Flakoll, all Republicans of Fargo, and Rep. Ron Guggisberg and Sen. Tyler Axness, both Democrats of Fargo, were also on hand Tuesday. They fielded questions submitted by community and business leaders present.

Carlson was asked why legislators passed property tax relief but not reform to prevent “out of control” local government spending. The 2013-15 tax relief package passed by the Legislature includes more than $850 million in property tax relief.

Carlson said reform is still a work in progress.

“Now it’s up to the locals to get engaged in this issue,” he said.

“Would I like more reform? Yes. But I think we ended up with a really good start.”

Someone else asked why, with the state’s ballooning surplus, the Legislature didn’t eliminate corporate and personal income taxes, as was proposed early in the session by Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot.

Grindberg said his philosophy is that every taxpayer “should have a little skin in the game.”

Carlson said the state relies a lot on the oil industry, one reason legislators are hesitant about getting rid of income taxes.

“We need to be careful,” Carlson said. “What happens if an executive order says tomorrow that there’s no more hydraulic fracking?”

Legislators also touted their commitment to give $450 million to Fargo for a flood diversion project. Of that, $175 million has already been provided, with $100 million coming this legislative session. The remaining $250 million will come in equal installments over the next four bienniums.

Carlson addressed the elephant in the room, admitting he became the “poster child” of diversion criticism after proposing amendments that supporters said were meant to kill the project.

Carlson’s amendments, which stated no state money could be spent on a Fargo-Moorhead diversion project, were eventually changed by state senators. Federal authorization and construction appropriation are now required before state funding can be put toward the project.

“There was never the attempt to say that there was no diversion,” Carlson said. "The attempt was to say, “Without federal participation, this is too big a project.' "

Flakoll fielded a question from an audience member concerned that North Dakota colleges and universities aren’t doing well – not counting football, hockey, agriculture and aviation.

Flakoll said this Legislature made “monumental” changes to the higher education funding model. The state’s 11 campuses will now be paid based on student credit hours completed, rather than initial student enrollment.

“That’s been embraced by legislators,” he said. “It’s been embraced by the higher education community. We’re also investing in facilities … at a record pace. $177 million is truly unprecedented.”

The chamber will sponsor a wrap-up of the Minnesota legislative session from noon to 1:30 p.m. on May 30 at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. To register, visit www.FMWF

Chamber.com or call (218) 233-1100.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518