News today is that former Republican Governor Ed Schafer and former Lt. Governor Lloyd Omdahl have come out against Measure 2 which, if passed on the June ballot would eliminate the property tax in the state.
Neither man is introducing anything all that new to the debate, other than their names and reputations, but I did find this report about Schafer’s comments recorded by the Associated Press to be interesting.
Schafer says he understands people are frustrated about property taxes, but he says Measure 2 is the wrong solution.
You can hear more of Schafer’s comments here.
Anyone who has followed North Dakota politics for a while has heard about the “three legged stool.” It’s a metaphor the state’s Republicans like to use for tax policy in the state. The envision a stool with three legs. One leg is for the property tax, one leg is for the sales tax and the last leg is for the income tax.
Now, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t ever really want to reduce tax burdens, you can argue against any tax cuts by arguing that the shortening of one leg will necessitate the lengthening of the other legs. If it’s income tax cuts that are proposed (such as the the 50% reduction in the state income tax that was proposed on the 2008 ballot), you can object by saying that sales taxes and property taxes will have to go higher (and opponents in 2008 did just that). If it’s property taxes that are in the crosshairs, you can argue that income taxes and sales taxes will go higher (which opponents of Measure 2 are doing now).
People who use this sort of triangulation never have to come out and admit that they’re not really for cutting taxes. It keeps the public forever scornful of the tax relief in front of them at the moment, and chasing a mirage of some better sort of tax relief that might one day be proposed instead.
I’m not thinking that this is what Schafer believes. In my conversations with him he’s led me to believe that he genuinely wants lower tax burdens and feels the state government is growing spending too fast.
But I am a little tired of Republicans who are generically in favor of tax relief, but not specifically in favor of any given proposal. Put another way, I’m tired of Republicans who tell me that they like tax cuts, just not any of the tax cuts that end up in front of the legislature or the voters.
If you want to know why there is faction and resentment within the rank-and-file of the North Dakota Republican party, this triangulation is why.
As soon as Measure 2 is defeated expect North Dakota’s Republicans to coalesce behind some proposal (much like the state-to-local property tax shift initiated in 2008) that will give the appearance of tax relief without the reality.
Indeed, the rumblings of just such a proposal can already be heard.