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Letter to the editor: One-party government is not good for taxpayers

The North Dakota Office of State Tax Commissioner collected $8.9 billion in taxes during the 2011-2013 biennium. In fiscal year 2013 alone, the office collected more than $5 billion. With numbers like that, it’s easy for a tax commissioner to cite statistics and tell you to “elect me.”

Politicians are good at taking credit. There’s a lot of that going on in Bismarck today, but consider this: Republicans have controlled the governor’s office and the House of Representatives for the past 22 years, the Senate for 20 years and the tax commissioner’s office for 18 years. Today, Republicans control every state office and have supermajorities in the Legislature. So what’s their excuse to taxpayers struggling with property tax bills? What’s their excuse for having us depend on the Legislature to come up with another short-term solution every two years?

They don’t have an excuse, but they have a task force to look into it. When one party has this much control, establishing a task force to look into a problem is an admission that a one-party government has failed to fix the problem.

Instead of enacting permanent property tax relief in the 2013 legislative session, the Republican supermajority was obsessed with lowering the oil extraction tax. North Dakotans created this tax through a statewide vote. Cutting this tax would have shortchanged citizens and hamstrung the communities most impacted by energy development. If there was ever a misplaced priority, this is it.

North Dakota’s needs must come first. To make sure this happens, we must restore balance to state government. We need an independent watchdog as tax commissioner who will look out for the never-before-seen-amounts that are being collected.

North Dakota is the only state that elects a tax commissioner, but the last two left in the middle of their elected terms to become lobbyists. This trend calls into question the independence of the office. It highlights an all too cozy relationship between special interests intent on shaping tax policy to benefit their needs with the very official we entrust to shape policy fairly for all taxpayers.

The tax commissioner’s office should be more than a collection and reporting agency. It must be a resource for new ideas, an advocate for innovative tax solutions, and an enforcer that makes sure that North Dakotans are receiving their fair share from those who benefit from our labor and the extraction of our natural resources.

By doing this, we can guarantee that taxpayers are protected and our state can make sound investments in our future. But to do this we need to restore balance and accountability to state government.

When it comes to taxes, you can never have too much accountability.

(Astrup is a candidate seeking the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party endorsement for tax commissioner)