MINOT, N.D. — "We had an opportunity in 2012, and we let it go by," state Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, told me during an interview earlier this month about a campaign he's starting to abolish the state's property taxes.
At the time, Becker didn't have his measure ready for public viewing, but today, Monday, March 16, the Secretary of State's office has received the proposal for approval for circulation.
Once approved, Becker and his supporters will have until July 6 of this year to submit 26,904 valid signatures to put this thing on the November ballot (if they miss that deadline they have up to a year from the date the measure was approved for circulation to get it on a subsequent ballot).
The measure is pretty straight-forward. You can read everything from the Secretary of State's office below, but here's the pertinent excerpt:
In plain language, the measure:
- Prohibits state and local governments from raising revenue from a property tax
- Any portion of property taxes put in place before December of this year to pay off debt will be allowed to continue
- The state Legislature shall be obligated to replace property tax revenues for local governments with an appropriation in the amount they're currently collecting in property taxes this year (less the amount being used to pay off debt)
This measure would repeal sections 4, 5, 7, 9, and 10 of Article X of the state constitution (read those sections here).
It also cuts in half the level of debt local governments can hold. Currently, the state constitution caps that debt at a percentage of property values, and this measure amends that language to cut those percentages in half.
None of this would be effective until Jan. 1, 2022.
Finally, the measure prohibits local governments from financing any new debt with property tax revenues after December of 2020.
A 2012 effort to abolish property taxes went down in flames -- less than 30 percent of the public voted for it -- and one of the most compelling arguments against at the time was the chaos detractors said it would create. The measure abolished the property tax too quickly, leaving little time for locals to adapt.
When Becker and I spoke about this proposal, he said that delay in the property tax ban kicking in was critical.
What will the arguments be against this measure?
I suspect we'll hear more about the loss of local control (though local governments never seem worried about that when they're lobbying to bring more state and federal dollars into their local budgets).
I think, given the language above, another gripe we'll hear is that the Legislature's obligation to replacement appropriations will be stuck in time at 2020 levels. Time marches on, as we all know.
Needs change. Inflation happens. Shouldn't this language in our constitution reflect that?
Nothing in this measure would stop the Legislature from going above those levels, and indeed I suspect the Legislature (given its historical spending proclivities) would over time leave those 2020 levels in the dust, but still, this may be a point of confusion and contention among voters.
Regardless, this is our first look at an idea I suspect we're going to be talking a lot about in the coming months.
Becker told me he plans to raise around $1.5 million for this effort - that's a lot for a ballot measure campaign in North Dakota - and I wouldn't doubt his ability.
Here's the full measure:
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.