Rep. Mike Nathe has an excellent letter in the Fargo Forum today pointing out that, on the issue of property taxes, the ball is back in the court of local governments. With local governments reacting to yet another massive state buy-down of property taxes with plans for aggressive new spending, and de facto tax increases resulting from you rising property values and static mill rates, Rep. Nathe points out that if your property tax bill doesn’t go down this biennium – or, worse, if it goes up – blame your local leaders:
Whether all this property tax relief will end up in your pocket is now in the hands of the local governments. These local government officials have the choice of passing the state-funded tax relief on to their taxpayers or letting rising values and increased spending consume part or all of the state-funded property tax relief. Taxpayers and voters must hold their local elected officials accountable for how this tax relief is managed.
Even in the face of rising values, these boards and commissions will have the choice to reduce the local property tax mill levy to ensure local taxpayers realize the tax relief intended by the state Legislature.
The Legislature has heard the call from the residents of North Dakota to reduce property taxes and has responded by providing more than $850 million in property tax relief. Now it is up to the local governments to do their part.
It still makes me a little nauseous to call the legislature’s buy-down of property taxes tax relief. Using revenue from state taxes to buy-down local taxes isn’t tax relief. The state’s money isn’t free money. That comes out of our pockets too.
But setting that issue aside, there is clearly a lot of anxiety that Governor Jack Dalrymple’s property tax relief plan, approved by the legislature, is going to go down in flames after a contentious fight over a ballot measure to eliminate property taxes was killed with promises for a legislative fix.
If property taxes don’t go down, with the state throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at local governments to make it go down, it will be a political disaster for Dalrymple and Republicans and a “told you so” moment for the proponents of eliminating property taxes.
That’s why the Chamber of Commerce, the group which lead the charge against eliminating property taxes, has been begging locals to get with the program too.
But will locals listen? I suspect they won’t. They’ve been having their cake and eating it too since the state began this absurd program of property tax buy-downs. Why would they do anything to derail the gravy train now that state leaders are on the hook?
It might be time to start treating the property tax problem as the local issue, driven by local policymakers, it’s always been.