North Dakotans Aren’t Asking The Right Questions About Supposed Property Tax Relief


I was happy to see this headline run in the Fargo Forum today.


It’s gratifying to see skepticism of the state buy-downs of local spending we’ve been calling “property tax relief.” There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical. Heck, there are a lot of reasons to believe it isn’t really tax relief at all.

What’s aggravating is that in the article, reporter Mike Nowatzki doesn’t seem to ask anyone the most pertinent question: Where is the money for the property tax buy-downs coming from?

The answer, of course, is the taxpayers. The money for the property tax buy-downs isn’t coming from some magical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s coming out of the income and sales and other taxes we all pay for the state. Which is why Democrat Assistant House Minority Leader Corey Mock admitted to me recently in an interview that the “property tax reilef” isn’t tax relief at all. “Our proposal to lower property tax obligations by increasing the state share of K-12 funding is best described as education and property tax reform,” Mock told me.

Indeed. Because the state’s approach to property tax reform since 2009 has been little more than shift in spending.

And, of course, the local government and their lobbyists in Bismarck love it. The state is taking huge amounts of spending off their plates, hiding it in the statewide budget surpluses, while leaving them free to continue raising property tax to fund spending in other areas.

That’s a great deal for local governments. It’s not such a great deal for the taxpayers. This may look good on paper now when the state has a windfall in property taxes, but remember that this plan obligates the state to a big chunk of local spending going forward. An obligation that won’t disappear should the state’s surpluses evaporate.

Rob Port is the editor of 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.

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  • guest

    the scary part is what happens when all the non-one-time spending can no longer be paid for with oil money. has anyone asked the leaders in bismarck what that total REALLY is and we plan to do when the money fountain goes dry?

    • Kevin Flanagan

      The ND public sector will just use its power to extract more income and assets from those of us in the productive, private sector.

  • Kevin Flanagan

    The oil will only go dry by actions of the EPA thugs.

  • Eric Wittliff

    This is very similar to what I was thinking when the governor suggested it. It made it more palatable to think of it as tax relief for the local cities, but the truth is all parts of the State need the funds. Many of us are lucky to live in incorporated cities that can tax the land to pay for the schools, but many parts of the State are not and they do not have the option of raise taxes on land.

    Education for our young is a most basic service that has been well founded in conservative and liberal values and it is something we need to expand as we expand.

    If it makes people from the urban areas sleep better at night thinking of it as property tax relief, then they can because it is true. If it lets admin from rural areas not freak-out when the know the have to higher more staff they can not pay for, then the can sleep better too.

    • Rob

      So, you’re saying it’s OK to mislead people?

      I can’t agree. This isn’t about how much to spend on education. This is about reducing tax burdens since the state has far more money than it needs.

      This plan doesn’t reduce tax burdens at all.

      • Eric Wittliff

        It is not misleading people. Take Minot for example. we had to raise taxes about $70 a house hold last year. We would have to again this year unless we find revenue to cover the expanse. Feds will not be sending much more, so we can either get it from the state or get it from the property taxes. So state paying it = reduced property is true.

        Yes tax payers are still picking up the tab. The only “solution” for that would not to do public education.

  • SusanBeehler

    Rob, only part of the blog is appearing, I don’t see this happening on any other pages, you may want to check. Unless that is the cut and paste.

  • Nick Hart

    This sounds familiar. Oh yes, this is what the M2 opponents said would happen if the measure had passed. It’s just a shell game. Now I remember.