Voters rejecting Measure 2 TuesdayNorth Dakota’s property tax revolt appeared to fizzle at the polls in early primary election returns Tuesday night. As of 9:12 p.m., Measure 2, which sought to eliminate property taxes, was badly trailing, with 80 percent rejecting the proposal and 20 percent favoring, with 14 percent of precincts reporting.
By: By Patrick Springer , Forum Communications, The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — North Dakota’s property tax revolt appeared to fizzle at the polls in early primary election returns Tuesday night.
As of 9:12 p.m., Measure 2, which sought to eliminate property taxes, was badly trailing, with 80 percent rejecting the proposal and 20 percent favoring, with 14 percent of precincts reporting.
The prospect that oil-rich North Dakota could be the first state in the nation to cast off property taxes attracted national attention, but a cool response from voters.
Those backing the proposal, pushed by a group calling itself Empower the Taxpayer, argued that the $812 million a year in local property taxes collected statewide could easily be replaced by oil and sales taxes.
“As long as you’re paying a property tax, you never truly own your home,” Del Ruff of West Fargo, a Measure 2 supporter, said before Tuesday’s vote.
But Keep it Local, a broad coalition of schools and other local governments, as well as business and farming groups, opposed Measure 2, saying it would usurp local control.
“People like their locally elected people to be in their communities,” Jon Martinson, executive director of the North Dakota School Boards Association, which opposed Measure 2, said before Tuesday’s vote.
Opponents also complained that Measure 2 was overly vague, leaving it to legislators to “fully and properly” fund obligations for 2,100 local governments throughout the state.
Measure 2 would amend the North Dakota Constitution to eliminate the property tax and leave it to the Legislature to replace the revenues — a formula for chaos and centralized decision-making, opponents argued.
The property tax, which opponents said is especially burdensome on elderly with fixed incomes, is an important revenue source for schools, cities, counties and other local units of government.
The campaign to eliminate it comes as state coffers are bulging with oil and sales tax revenues, with projected reserves of $5 billion.
But state officials have said cautioned that most of that money is obligated in special funds. Implementing Measure 2, legislative analysts have said, would require more than 400 pages of new laws.
Even opponents of Measure 2, including former Gov. Ed Schafer and former Lt. Gov. Lloyd Omdahl, said the property tax has problems and is in need of an overhaul.
Legislators have provided property tax relief, and increased state support for public schools, in recent years.
Although oil and gas revenues are gushing, many officials said it would be a mistake for governments to rely too heavily on such a volatile revenue source, which fluctuates with oil booms and busts.
In light of Measure 2, politicians of both parties predict that it is likely that lawmakers next year will be under greater pressure to provide more significant property relief.
Otherwise, many agreed, there will be another attempt at the ballot to ease or eliminate the property tax. No state has eliminated property taxes.
“When you pay the property tax, you’re funding your local services,” said Jeff Esslinger, communications manager for the North Dakota Association of Counties.
In incomplete, unofficial statewide returns, Measure 2 garnered 3,898 yes votes and 15,321 no votes by 9:12 p.m. Tuesday.
Patrick Springer is a reporter at the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.