Five years ago property tax was a hot topic in North Dakota. Not only because people were dissatisfied with their property tax bills, but due in large part to what was then known as Measure 2– the initiated measure to abolish property taxes. Unfortunately, for property owners, the measure went down in defeat by a 54 point margin of 77 – 23.
Well, earlier today, the Forum’s Mike McFeely published an article suggesting that North Dakotans "get ready for another push to abolish ND property taxes". Interestingly enough, it was a year ago this month that I wrote two articles on Facebook (prior to the creation of this website) suggesting that perhaps the time had come to revisit the idea of abolishing them.
While Measure 2 was headed to a vote in June of 2012, an interesting thing was taking place. On one hand, we had the local governments pointing fingers at the state. On the other hand, we had the state pointing fingers at the local governments. And in the middle, we had the taxpayers. Many of whom didn’t realize that both were to blame.
Oddly enough, while pointing their fingers, the state ultimately sold the argument to voters that they just needed one more chance to "reform" the dreaded curse. An interesting argument from people who wanted to blame local governments. Having said that, it was much like the abused spouse whose abuser begs for just one more opportunity to prove themselves.
In addition to the state’s promises, we had Keep it Local North Dakota. Their acronym appropriately being KIL-ND. If there ever was a cesspool of special interest groups, this was the one. Nevertheless, they contributed to the success of the Vote NO crowd in convincing taxpayers that police, emergency services, education, etc. would all cease to exist in North Dakota were Measure 2 to pass. I think they may have thrown in that the sky was falling too.
In the time following Measure 2’s demise, the state passed what affectionately became known as "property tax buy-downs". In essence the state gave money to local governments in an effort to alleviate the property tax burden. In some cases, the buy-downs did result in decreased property tax bills. But in others, local governments used the buy-downs as an excuse to spend, spend, spend and other people’s taxes went up.
Fast forward to this legislative session, where the state is dealing with a budget crisis of sorts, and the tone in Bismarck is quite different than it was five years ago. Instead of "give us one more chance", we have statements like this from Rep. Jason Dockter (R – District 7) last week on the House floor during debate on Senate Bill 2206, "We want to get out of the property tax business– the state." Or this one from Rep. Mike Lefor (R – District 37), "The 12% property tax buy-down is unsustainable…The state should not be in the property tax business."
The insane spending by the North Dakota Legislature and their failure to successfully reform property taxes have made proponents of the failed initiative to abolish them prophetic in their statements. Empower the Taxpayer was the group behind the measure, and they warned us this would happen.
With everything that Empower the Taxpayer warned us about coming true, I still wonder if we’ve learned our lesson? Are we ready to finally accept the fact that we cannot reform something that is inherently broken, immoral, and abusive? If the answer to that is "No", then perhaps we should wait until those tax statements come out that don’t reflect any buy-downs. Then perhaps the appetite will finally be there to rid ourselves of the abuse.
Until then, prepare yourselves. The finger pointing has begun… again. Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.