Sen. Mac Schneider and Rep. Kenton Onstad, Published May 16 2013
Letter: Questionable priorities riddled 2013 LegislatureSenate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, and House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, recently boasted on the pages of The Forum that they “got the job done for the citizens” of North Dakota. With respect for our friends the majority leaders, if that’s the definition of getting the job done, we fully expect the people of North Dakota to decide someone else should do the job next session. Opportunities were squandered by an overly ideological GOP majority with misplaced priorities.
Take their approach to taxes. While the fallout over last year’s Measure 2 debate should have focused attention squarely on providing deeper property tax relief, one of the majority’s first acts was to move forward with a radical and reckless cut to the oil extraction tax. It would have cost the state $1.3 billion in the first five years alone, but every single GOP senator voted for the oil tax cut before the majority was even close to having a plan to reduce property taxes. GOP legislators in the House voted for a similar proposal before ultimately walking it back in the face of public pressure.
The GOP majority then insisted on $250 million in reductions to the income tax and corporate taxes, 82 percent of which are paid by out-of-state corporations, including big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart. When Dem-NPL senators tried to turn that $250 million into direct property tax relief – something that would have reduced property taxes by an additional 12.5 percent across the board – the majority voted it down in lockstep.
The majority’s questionable priorities extend to education. While even conservative states such as Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia are moving toward access to early childhood education for all 4-year-olds, the GOP majority voted against state support for pre-kindergarten programs in our state. And Wardner and Carlson’s claim of passing “unprecedented funding for K-12 education” strikingly omits the fact that Carlson himself led an 11th-hour effort to kill legislation that funds elementary and secondary schools. This legislative malpractice threw the closing hours of the session into chaos, resulting in an end product that reduced funding for education by about
$53 million from the executive budget.
When it comes to higher education, the majority somehow managed to both increase spending and shoot down Dem-NPL legislation to hold the line on tuition, ensuring North Dakota will continue to lead the country when it comes to the percentage of college graduates who carry student debt.
And the “flood prevention” efforts discussed by majority leaders often resembled “flood protection prevention.” Consider Carlson’s own amendments to a key water bill that would have scuttled Fargo’s plan to protect itself from flooding: Only after a tremendous push by Fargo’s elected officials and business leaders – and two attempts – were Carlson’s amendments stripped from the bill by the Senate.
That isn’t to say we didn’t have some successes this session. Dem-NPL legislators were proud to work with what practical members of the majority there are to pass Medicaid expansion, fund the UND medical school and restore hundreds of millions in dollars to address oil impacts that had been previously cut by the majority in the Senate. But significant challenges remain, and to say that the job is “done” in the face of those challenges places political self-congratulation over reality.
Sen. Schneider, D-Grand Forks, is minority leader of the North Dakota Senate; Rep. Onstad, D-Parshall, is minority leader of the North Dakota House.