Senator Dwight Cook (R), District 34, has filed SCR 4021 late Friday before the Legislature convened for the week. Co-sponsored by Sens Tom Campbell and Rich Wardner, and Reps Wes Belter, Craig Headland, and Majority Leader Al Carlson; SCR 4021 would if passed and accepted by Legislative Management as a study:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF NORTH DAKOTA, THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES CONCURRING THEREIN:
That the Legislative Management study the feasibility, consequences, and desirability of elimination of property taxes; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Legislative Management report its findings and recommendations, together with any legislation required to implement the recommendations, to the Sixty-fourth Legislative Assembly.
Quite honestly, I don’t know what to think about this SCR. Upon initial review it looks like an excellent study project for Legislative Management to take on, and no matter the reasons for proposing it, I do hope it passes and is selected for an interim study. No matter how you felt about Measure 2 from the June 2012 election, it opened up impassioned debate on both sides that probably had both of them stretching reality a bit (although I can’t help but point out the Keep It Local ND coalition brought together some very interesting and highly suspicious alliances). A study may help clarify the facts on this debate, so long as the study is done in a unbiased manner.
I can’t help but think that will be the rub. If passed and adopted, will this be a study that truly looks at “the feasibility, consequences, and desirability of elimination of property taxes”; or will it be one which is set up from the start to ensure that the results of the study guarantee a conclusion showing property tax elimination is unfeasible, undesirable, and contains overly dramatic consequences which may or may not be the reality?
I also wonder if this study proposal, and the lateness in which it has been filed, is a signal that significant property tax reform is not in the cards this legislative session; despite overtures to the contrary leading up to the 63rd Assembly. Is this study nothing more than an attempt to kick the property tax reform can down the road (yes I know that expression is getting old, but the ND Legislative Assembly excels at it. Just look at pension reform) another session? If reform doesn’t happen, will this study be used as a way to attempt to defeat another Measure 2 Property Tax Elimination effort through having a new argument lined up basically saying to the citizens:
“Hey, we know we need to look at Property Tax Reform. We have a study going on right now, but it is too early to consider elimination until the conclusions are made. We can then implement those conclusions in the 64th Assembly. But for now, lets not eliminate property taxes.”
I can’t help but think this is the case, based on the trends developing in the current session. We will probably learn a lot based on the testimony given by the Association of Counties, League of Cities, and ND Chamber of Commerce.
I think SCR 4021 should pass, and be accepted by Legislative Management for an interim study. But if it is, lets hope this will be an honest assessment (bad pun) of property taxes in the state and not a political smokescreen to give the appearance of doing something about property tax reform. Elected officials at all levels of government should not take the Measure 2 vote as a sign that the current system is something acceptable to the people of the state.