Weigh in on 2: Lawmakers, officials say Measure 2 unworkableWhile a tally of the official vote on Measure 2 is still about a month away, many local elected officials are expressing opposition to the initiated North Dakota constitutional amendment.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
While a tally of the official vote on Measure 2 is still about a month away, many local elected officials are expressing opposition to the initiated North Dakota constitutional amendment.
Measure 2, on the June 12 primary election ballot, would prohibit taxes based on the value of property. This eliminates most forms of the property taxes that serve as the primary source of income for city, county, township and other local governments.
“It’s like trying to wash a window with a sledgehammer,” said Brian Paulson, assistant fire chief for the Jamestown Rural Fire Department. “How would we move forward? There are a lot of unknowns that makes a volunteer’s job difficult.”
Paulson said the Jamestown Rural Fire Department is entirely volunteer and he is concerned someone from the department would have to lobby the Legislature for funding.
“It would make the volunteer jobs in a lot of governments difficult,” he said. “How much time do volunteers have to put in?”
If all local governments are forced to lobby the Legislature for budgets, it would increase the scope of state government.
“My No. 1 issue is the centralization of power,” said Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown. “It takes the authority to generate revenue from the local governments. The ability to generate revenue is the power.”
Wanzek said he would not support the measure but did recognize that it was sending a message.
“The property tax issue has to be visited but this measure goes too far,” he said.
Sen. Dave Nething, R-Jamestown, sees several problems with the measure.
“It makes state government run local government,” he said. “The state shouldn’t be doing that.”
Nething is also concerned that the measure will ultimately result in a tax increase and that out-of-state landowners would pay no taxes in North Dakota. He also views property tax relief as a work in progress.
“Reviewing property tax is ongoing,” he said. “That’s been going on whether or not this measure came along.”
Other members of the Legislature from districts in Stutsman County agreed.
“This takes away local control,” said Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington. “I understand people coming forward but this is not a well-written measure. Hopefully we can figure out more property tax relief.”
Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, sees the measure adding an extra layer to North Dakota government.
“The real issue is if the Legislature has to overview the budgets,” he said. “We’re limited to 80 days. I don’t think the citizens, or most of the legislators, want a somewhat full-time Legislature. That’s more and more government and I don’t think anyone wants that.”
Rep. Joe Kroeber, D-Jamestown, said the measure is unworkable.
“I don’t see how the local entities can get the approval to do the long-term maintenance they need to do,” he said. “That has to be done locally. We need a continued emphasis in property tax reform but this doesn’t do that.”
Some township officials see the measure as a move away from the level of local control township government provides.
“The township is the purest form of government,” said Clarence Daniel, chairman of the board of supervisors for Spiritwood Township. “The township budget has to be submitted to the voters every year. Anyone interested can attend the meeting and vote on the budget.”
Duane Anderson, township supervisor in Woodbury Township, said that would change if Measure 2 passes.
“Instead of our own revenue we’d have to go to the state,” he said. “It would make the job of supervisor more difficult if you have to go to the state every year.”
School districts would be among the first government entities to have to deal with the impact of Measure 2, if it passes.
“Our biggest concern is we haven’t heard anything on how the Legislature would fund us,” said Greg Allen, Jamestown Public School Board president. “Our fiscal year starts July 1 and we usually levy about $5 million. We don’t see a mechanism to replace it now.”
All school districts in North Dakota operate with July 1 as the start of the fiscal year. This allows the fiscal year to correspond with the school year, said Bob Toso, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.
If Measure 2 passes on June 12, all schools in North Dakota would start the fiscal year 18 days later without one of the principle revenue sources.
“Measure 2 says the Legislature has to replace the dollars,” Toso said. “But the Legislature doesn’t meet until January and then they are looking at the next two years.”
School districts would be forced to operate partially on reserve funds, Toso said.
“We would have to use our reserves until the Legislature does what it does,” he said. “But our reserves won’t last forever.”
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at email@example.com