Grand Forks Herald: Tax Cuts Are A “Libertarian Extreme”

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It seems the editorial page at the Grand Forks Herald has become more and more shrill in its denunciations of limited government ideals. Though the Herald has always been to the left of the average North Dakota voter, normally the editorials can be counted to be above the sort of name-calling and invective displayed in editorials by the paper’s sister publication in Fargo.

That seems to be changing. In today’s editorial the Herald, while arguing against a proposal to reform North Dakota’s oil extraction tax, denounces pushes for tax cuts as “libertarian extremes.”

Proponents of such tax cuts typically make two claims. The first argues that the government has no business taking the money because the money isn’t the government’s in the first place.

But North Dakotans have little interest in such libertarian extremes, as they’ve shown repeatedly in recent years by rejecting proposals to slash their own income and property taxes. And if they value government services enough to keep their own taxes in place, why would they be in a hurry to cut taxes paid by oil companies?

I don’t think the idea that the wealth we individuals create belongs to us, not the government, is all that extreme. We citizens create our wealth, and through the democratic process we agree to give up some of that wealth to fund government which, in turn, creates and enforces laws. I think (I hope) most in North Dakota feel that way rather than the opposite, which is that the wealth we keep after taxation is ours only as a gift from the government.

Because that’s extreme, to my mind.

But as to this supposed opposition to tax relief in North Dakota, it’s worth remembering that since the 2009 legislative session (which came after a hotly-debated 50% cut in income taxes was on the ballot) cut income taxes as has every legislative session since. And this legislature may cut them even further. Rep. Scott Louser has a bill to eliminate personal income taxes entirely for two years. Short of that, Rep. Craig Headland has a bill to cut them by about 75%. The conventional wisdom in Bismarck is that one of these two measures will likely pass. But even if that doesn’t happen, it seems to be a surety that income taxes will be reduced.

Is that extremism? According to the Herald it is. If there has been resistance from North Dakotans to tax relief proposals put on the ballot, that owes a lot not to opposition to tax relief but to the triangulation of elected leaders who use the worthless “three legged stool” analogy to keep voters rejecting the tax relief in front of them in favor or some other sort of tax relief.

It would be a mistake to believe that most North Dakotans are satisfied with their current levels of taxation as the state is awash in revenues.

As to the issue of the extraction tax, specifically, the Herald argues that there might be a convincing case to be made for it if the tax were hurting oil production. “[W]hatever dampening effect the tax is having on oil production is negligible,” writes opinion editor Tom Dennis on behalf of the Herald. “That may change one day; if it does, North Dakota should respond. But not before.”

Whatever happened to being proactive in public policy? It may not be having an impact on oil production now, but the oil markets in America are getting more competitive all the time. The oil industry doesn’t have to exploit the state’s oil reserves now. They could leave that oil in the ground and decamp to friendlier tax (and meteorological) climes quicker than the state could respond with reforms. Far too many scoff at this notion, but it’s worth remembering that if our oil revenues plummet the pressure on taxes in the state is going to be upward, not downward.

I know it’s “big oil” and we’re all supposed to hate “big oil.” I know the popular attitude to have when it comes to oil taxes is “fleece them while the fleecing is good.” But how about we have an adult conversation about the issue beyond those tired political tropes, and instead engage in a little forward thinking?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • Roy_Bean

    How about an initiated measure to pass a “dead tree use tax”. First of all, cutting down all those trees for newsprint surely must contribute to global warming and second there’s the problem of filling landfills with old newspapers. We could mandate that newspapers have to pay the tax but it wouldn’t be “fair” to pass the cost along to readers.

  • ec99

    For better or for worse, the Herald has borne the indelible imprint of Mike Jacobs’ ideology for decades. It likely explains why circulation has plummeted. A partial result of this has been a not-concealed hyprocrisy. If his right to print whatever he wanted to were infringed upon, he’d have apoplexy. Yet he had no problem in doing the exact same thing to commentators on the Herald website. Similarly, the Herald has never objected to increased tax expenditures in Grand Forks, while Jacobs lives in Gilby. To that one might add his penchant for bury stories which are uncomplementary to advertisers and friends. But then, Jacbos sees the Herald as his mouthpiece, not the “people’s paper” Winship envisioned.

    • devilschild

      Jacobs resumed the duties of publisher of the GFH, now that MJ Hotzler took over his job as director of Forum News Service, as of Feb 1, 2013. Now he is looking to hire a new editor to lighten his duties. And I was looking forward to him retiring.

      I see Chuck Haga won a journalism award for his articles on the child abuse on the SLR. This I find troubling because he barely scratched the surface on that atrocity. I was hoping that finally someone was going to get to the truth … but nope.
      The Herald will write countless articles on the Fighting Sioux nickname but ongoing child abuse and corruption on the SRL barely gets covered at all. This should be a major news story with the Herald sticking with the story until the truth comes out …. but nope.

      • ec99

        And Haga is one of few who are actually reporters. The rest either simply print press releases or tie a string of quotes together with connecting sentences. They’re too lazy to research a story.
        As for Jacobs, he was supposed to retire a year ago. But given that his ego is so huge that they had to add wider doors so he could enter the Herald Buiding, I’m sure he believes he’s indepensible.

        • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

          I think Chuck does a pretty good job reporting the big stories.

          • ec99

            As I said, he’s a member of the old school when journalism meant something.

  • Thresherman

    If left unchecked government would consume all private capital and then blame private enterprise for running out of money,

    • http://ndgoon.blogspot.com Goon

      They already are. They’re running out of people to steal from.

  • WOOF

    The oil companies think of nothing but gain.
    They take North Dakota’s oil and will leave in a heartbeat,
    abandoning any ruin they caused.
    To encourage the cheapening
    and quickening of exploitation does not serve
    the state’s citizens.

    “Pharaoh dreamed that he stood by the river, and out came seven fat cattle, who fed in the reed-grass. And then seven lean cattle came up out of the river and ate the seven fat cattle,”
    Joseph recommended that Pharaoh set over Egypt a man discreet and wise,
    that he appoint overseers to take up a fifth of the harvests during the
    years of plenty, and that he store that food for the years of famine.”

    • jl

      Drama Queen alert!

      • WOOF

        Sound economic policy, Beeyatch .

    • yy4u2

      People like you referencing the Bible rings very hollow. How was Joseph able to interpret the dream? Kudos to God and Christianity both of which you and your ‘believers’ loathe.

      Also, I’d bet if you had mineral rights and they were pumping oil out of your land, you’d be belting a much different tune.

  • VocalYokel

    Considering the amount of Taxpayer’s money that goes Grand Forks way I’m not surprised that fiscal responsibility by the government would seem “extreme” to Tom Dennis and his ilk.

  • joeb

    Maybe if the Williston Herald came out with an article proposing a tax on university students or air bases, the Grand Forks Herald would finally howl about a tax.

    When the extraction tax hurts oil production (A situation which is price related) the tipping point is reached quickly, more quickly than any legislature can react. We have the crash of ’82 behind us, we know what that looks like in this end of the state, and aren’t really in a hurry to have another.

    Moderating a tax on oil (which will be extracted anyway) in order to maintain the pace of development isn’t a bad idea, especially when that moderation can be tied to production rates overall and to the price of crude oil. Or is it that the greedy East Side Gang just can’t spend enough of that new oil revenue and ‘need’ still more?

    It is not the job of government to think up every possible way to spend the wealth created by the private sector, or even conduct grant-funded studies designed to tell us they need to spend that wealth, be that wealth created by one-person LLCs or multinational conglomerates.

  • borborygmi

    “Whatever happened to being proactive in public policy? It may not be having an impact on oil production now, but the oil markets in America are getting more competitive all the time. The oil industry doesn’t have to exploit the state’s oil reserves now. They could leave that oil in the ground and decamp to friendlier tax (and meteorological) climes quicker than the state could respond with reforms” Has anyone seen another dead horse around here. Rob keeps beating this one but it still stays dead. {poor oil companies, sniff.

  • Dallas

    Hey Rob, you, Ed and Scott, all lined up to give the oil boys a big wet kiss. You claim you’re not on the payroll but Ed and Scott (the banker) certainly are. Nothing like a little quid-pro-quo while preaching virtue to the unwashed…..

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      It’s interesting to me that you never really have any arguments for or against anything. It’s always just trash the messenger.

    • Guest

      Dallas,

      Maybe you should get a job and you can get on a payroll. Why are you so jealous of other peoples success?

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