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Measure 2 is clearly foolish

No matter how proponents frame it, the measure to repeal all property taxes in North Dakota is an ill-conceived ideological stunt that would cripple local governments. Maybe that's the ultimate goal of the Measure 2 crowd, but whatever the motivation, Measure 2 is transparently foolish.

One of the most anti-tax groups in North Dakota has come out against the measure. Calling the scheme "dangerous," a coalition representing business interests traveled the state last week to sound the alarm. Keep It Local North Dakota is comprised of individuals and organizations not usually associated with embracing taxes of any kind. Indeed, it's safe to say that the 55 business organizations in the coalition most often can be found on the side of lowering or eliminating taxes.

Not this time.

Members of the coalition, which also includes civic organizations, have concluded correctly that Measure 2 would threaten control of local government financing. The measure is a nebulous, ideological mishmash that purports to replace revenue losses from property taxes by legislative fiat. If that's not a loss of local control, nothing is.

Supporters claim that since the state is awash in oil money, the Legislature would have no problem getting sufficient replacement funding to cities, schools, counties, park boards and townships. In fact, the measure mandates the Legislature would have to do exactly that. What it doesn't detail is how it would be done. And as with everything in muddled, ideology-driven mandates, the devil is in the details.

The measure's monumental thoughtlessness (carelessness?) could result in lawmakers and/or state bureaucrats having to approve the minutiae of hundreds of local government budgets. Since lawmakers converge on Bismarck only once every two years, the nightmare scenario for annual local budgets is a guarantee.

Furthermore, folks with their heads screwed on straight know that those who dole out the money have control, write the rules and, in effect, rule the fiscal roost. Can you imagine the mess that could ensue if, say, Fargo, Bismarck or Minot could not appropriate funds locally for an emergency -- a flood for example -- and instead had to scamper off to Bismarck to negotiate with the bureaucracy to secure a few extra dollars?

Legal and budget analysts who don't have a dog in the fight have concluded Measure 2 is an open-ended, poorly conceived disaster-in-waiting that could even be a fat gift to litigators. Proponents tout analyses that see it differently. But it's impossible to dismiss the sentiments of endemically anti-tax businesspeople, who oppose the measure because they understand its potential for destroying the autonomy of local government.