Dorso Column: Keep Property Taxes Local


I am having a real problem trying to agree with my Republican friends in the legislature and Governor Jack Dalrymple.

I don’t think the governor or the legislature should get much credit for trying to keep property taxes in check. In fact during my legislative leadership I tried to keep the legislature out of property tax controversies. Property tax is actually none of the legislature’s business other than to ensure that it is equitable and collected fairly within a taxing district. How political subdivisions treat their constituents is a matter for their voters to decide. I still believe that government closest to the people is the best.

The state inserting itself into property tax issue is wrong for a number of reasons. Most notably is the state shouldn’t be rewarding real estate holders with general fund revenues. If citizens own real estate they don’t deserve more general fund revenue accruing to them than those who don’t own real estate. This is true no matter how indirect the distribution. The result is the more real estate you own the bigger claim you make on general fund revenues, and that just isn’t right.

Property tax relief as it is now structured also benefits real estate owners who don’t reside in North Dakota. That is also inherently wrong when talking of funds collected for the benefit of the citizens of the state.

I always hated the mill levy deduction in the per-pupil school funding formula. It was another example of rural versus urban. Farmers own land thus want low property taxes. It is that simple. I have always said that school funding should follow the students, not some cooked up formula that tries to make property owners happy. Equity in school funding was the tune legislators heard, but the real effort was to send rural school districts more general fund revenue so they don’t have to raise property taxes.

When certain school districts threatened lawsuits because of the inequality of the formula the answer was always incremental change in the formula with a lot more money added so the rural districts didn’t get a cut. Of course, if they received less general fund revenue they would have had to cut services or raise property taxes. NDEA always got on board for more general fund money because they didn’t want to fight the property tax battle in each rural school district. What are we trying to do, educate children or give money to the owners of real estate?

I found it interesting that Governor Dalrymple, in his State of the State speech, talked about having achieved more equity in school funding. In the same speech he promises that he won’t let there be a cap on mill levy while sending more money as property tax relief. Taking all of it in context, how does anyone think the legislature is going to keep anyone happy? The bottom line is that for 30 years school funding has been a bone of contention. Whether you try to find equity in per pupil payments or you call it property tax relief it all comes down to the same thing.

I believe some of this started with Democrats complaining about property taxes ten years ago. The majority of the property taxes they are complaining about go to fund the schools they claim to be the guardians of. If Democrats are so bent on more education dollars why are they so against local mill levies for education?

Put in context it goes like this: Democrats like to be seen as the saviors of education. Farmers Union, a Democrat leaning organization, hates property taxes. The conundrum is resolved by blaming Republicans for not putting enough general fund money in per pupil payments or doing something about property taxes. The bigger question is how did the Republicans get sucked into this ridiculous argument?

What is the moral thing to do? If the legislature and governor want to give a tax break give it to everyone in the form of abolishing the income tax, reducing the sales tax or both. Every citizen gets their cut of the pie. If a renter gets a tax break they can use it to pay the rent. A home owner anywhere from Minot to Abercrombie could use it to pay their property taxes.

Let the Democrats try and argue against that.

Related posts

  • SusanBeehler

    Let’s keep our roads local, our sidewalks local, our schools local and make anyone else moving into use them pay a toll, a fee, and tuition. You walk by my house I should be charging part of my special assessment to you, that is as local as you can get.

  • nimrod

    Well written article, I agree completely. The only problem is that the citizens of this state apparently like to pay taxes. The measures that have tried to get rid of property taxes, or cut income tax in half were both defeated soundly.

    • Kevin Flanagan

      That’s because most people in this state live off of taxes or tax subsidies!

  • SusanBeehler

    This statement “actually none of the legislature’s business” maybe Mr. Dorso’s opinion, but the state decides how property tax is conducted, they train the assessors and they give no other taxing authority to local government other than a “penny” sales tax. If the state is serious about local control let the people decide how they will pay for their services with any tax they choose.

  • Captjohn

    Susan read the State constitution Article 10 section 1, it couldn’t be clearer. You must not have read the end of the sentence where I say the legislatures responsibility is” to insure the tax is equitale and fairly collected”. You also should do some reading on Home Rule which is also in the constitution.

  • Captjohn

    Nimrod the problem with measures on the ballot is they tie the hands of the legislature for a minimum of 7 years. On policy decisions such as this I think it is best to influence your legislators rather then tie their hands. Next week I will suggest one way to deal with the issue which would never have leant itself to a ballot measure.

    • Lianne

      Why wait till next week?

  • Mike

    This could not be any more accurate! “…How political subdivisions treat their constituents is a matter for
    their voters to decide. I still believe that government closest to the
    people is the best…” I can drop in on my city commissioners or school board members and influence how much money is collected and how it is spent when they set my property taxes.

    • Rob

      The problem is the local politicians have gotten realy good at convincing people this is the states problem.

  • Jeremiah Glosenger

    Property taxes should be outlawed. Local subdivisions should only be allowed to tax income & consumption to fund schools. That solves it.

  • Kevin Flanagan

    Why was Cory Fong allowed to stick his nose into measure 2? It was clearly a conflict of interest on his part.

  • VocalYokel

    Any tax whose penalty is confiscation of property is not only Draconian but IMHO is unconstitutional.