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Rep. Gail Mooney, Published June 22 2013

Letter: Tax cuts in proper context

Since the end of the 2013 Legislature, we’ve seen several commentaries reporting a 40 percent decrease in property tax – thanks to the passage of

HB 1013, HB 1319 and SB 2036 – along with statements that if the property owner doesn’t see such relief, they should hold local government accountable. All true.

But, the statements are misleading in that the 40 percent is cumulative and includes all the additional state funding going back to 2008. In other words, we will see additional reductions to property taxes at the end of this year, thanks to the 2013 legislation. But depending on where we live and what our valuations are, the percentages for 2014 are most likely to be closer to a 20 to 25 percent reduction for this coming year – not 40 percent.

We’ve had excellent discussion surrounding the entire topic of property tax, thanks to the 2012 ballot measure centered on its elimination. The consensus was loud and clear: keep it local. But, like most people, I heard a caveat with that vote: get those taxes down and under control. Not a threat but certainly a directive.

It seemed certain this would be one of the primary goals of the session. We learned quickly this would not be as simple as the interpreted directive. We heard that property tax is a local thing. Or, that the state has no real business in direct property tax relief formulas since this only serves to “enable local governments” that perhaps aren’t looking as closely at the bottom line as they should.

And yet, there are unfunded mandates. Both federal and state governments have requirements for local government to provide services, such as county extension, health and social services, but do not allocate funds to the county to fully fund the services. There are state requirements such as land and property valuations and retirement match increases that must be met. And, of course, there are the match requirements for every road and every bridge that involves state or federal dollars.

So, while it is true that the locals establish the levy required to meet the general operating budget that will accommodate needs, it is also true that locals are affected by external influences from state and federal levels.

And, how does the local entity pay for these budgetary items? For 50 out of 53 counties, this is property tax. Unless they have adopted a Home Rule Charter by a vote of the people, there is only one funding mechanism available to the local entity to fund services and infrastructure – the property tax.

To be clear, both state and federal levels assist in funding of certain local programs and infrastructure funding; it’s this partial funding that becomes the point of contention as it pertains to property tax. Is it proportionate to today’s needs as compared to available wealth? For example, 1985 statewide property taxes provided 33 percent of the needed local funding. Compare this to 2012 property taxes, which provided 31 percent of the funding, for a mere 2 percent decline in 27 years.

When it comes to holding elected officials accountable, I agree. But, let’s be sure we’re asking the right questions. The projected budgets, mill calculations and federal/state funding are public record. If not available through your county or city website, contact your auditor, commissioner or council member. Then, ask a legislator what their commitments are for meaningful and sustainable property tax solutions.

Mooney, D-Cummings, N.D., is also a Traill County commissioner.