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Published December 19 2013

Forum editorial: Property tax down; really, it is

Parse it how you will, but the numbers confirm that homeowners in Fargo and West Fargo will realize real-money tax cuts on next year’s bills. It’s “real money” because the decreases are not mill levy or valuation manipulations. Actual dollars – that is fewer dollars – will be the measures of the reductions. (See Forum story, Page 1, Dec. 17.)

The good news comes as the property tax question in North Dakota takes center stage. The good news in Fargo and West Fargo might not be universally shared in every local taxing district in the state. While there will be reductions here, it does not mean there will be similar cuts in Mandan or Devils Lake or Williston. So the ire that seems to be building about property taxes won’t necessarily be cooled by significantly lower tax bills in Fargo and West Fargo.

(Taxes will go down in Moorhead and Dilworth, but the mechanism and state support programs are different from the North Dakota method.)

As sure as wind on the prairie, the anti-tax crowd that is vehemently opposed to the property tax won’t be satisfied. Their opposition is an ideological anomaly that calls for elimination of the property tax. They were behind Measure 2, which aimed to abolish North Dakota’s property tax. It was hammered into the turf by voters when they realized what a nonsensical crock of mush it was.

The Measure 2 folks apparently are at it again with a drive to place another anti-property tax measure on the statewide ballot. They’ve been energized by what they say is the Legislature’s do-nothing record on property taxes, and the governor’s naming of the task force to study property tax reform. That’s an admission lawmakers failed to reduce taxes, say tax opponents.

Not so fast. If property taxes are going down (in real dollars) in Fargo and West Fargo, might they be going down elsewhere? Might not the Legislature’s multisession drive to hold down local property taxes by appropriating more state money for school districts be having the same effect in other places? Now that’s worth studying.

Before anyone gets suckered by another Measure 2-type road show, let’s get a better grasp of the numbers – an analysis of how the Legislature’s work over several sessions has affected local tax bills across the state. There’s one for the professionals at the Tax Department to take on.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.