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Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson speaks in opposition to Measure 2, a bill to abolish property taxes in North Dakota, on Thursday at the West River Community Center in Dickinson.

Keep It Local vs. Empower the Taxpayer: Measure 2 tax bill supporters, opponents battle for the votes

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Keep It Local vs. Empower the Taxpayer: Measure 2 tax bill supporters, opponents battle for the votes
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

To tax property or not to tax property, that is the question.

Or at least it was Thursday at the West River Community Center, where more than 35 people, including business and property owners, gathered for a Keep It Local North Dakota news conference, in which the coalition voiced opposition to Measure 2. It also met resistance from Empower the Taxpayer, a bill proponent group.

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Measure 2, which will be on the state's primary election ballot June 12, aims to amend the North Dakota Constitution to abolish property taxes. The measure would also provide Legislature authority to offset the lost revenue from other sources.

The idea doesn't sit well with Steffes Corp. president and chief operating officer, and North Dakota Chamber of Commerce Chairman Joe Rothschiller, who said more than 2,000 local governments -- including school boards, park districts and city governments -- would have no choice but to request funding from the state Legislature.

"We don't feel that's practical," he said. "First of all, we want to be very clear that we are asking the citizens of North Dakota to oppose this initiated measure, which is a 'no' vote -- a very clear 'no' vote in the

language."

Rothschiller added that the North Dakota Chamber Board opposed Measure 2, despite its support of property tax reform.

"This is not the way to do it," he said of the bill. "We feel the measure is reckless, we feel it's dangerous and a fundamentally flawed approach to property tax reform in North Dakota."

Greg Burns, representing the North Dakota Education Association, said the measure robs "Peter to pay Paul."

"It is not a tax savings and it will put the current state level of 70 percent funding of public education at risk," Burns said.

Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson joined Rothschiller and Burns in their stand against Measure 2, saying he opposed the amendment both as a mayor and a businessman.

"Tax policy is better made by elected officials and not embedded in the state's constitution," Johnson said. "Passage of Measure 2 will lead to a loss of local control, and likely underfunding and unfair funding of cities by the state."

Johnson said the loss of local property tax revenue would need to be replaced by funding from the state, which would need to "come up with at least an additional $800 million per year." The funding would be provided by a formula determined by the state Legislature.

Residents Nikki McAlpin and Ralph Muecke offered rebut to the opposition of Measure 2 on behalf of Empower the Taxpayer. McAlpin argued that property owners already lack local control over school funding, social services and the other ways property tax dollars are spent.

"Everybody who is opposing it are bureaucrats," McAlpin said. "We listen to politicians constantly campaign, 'I'm going to cut taxes when I get there, I'm going to cut taxes.' When we finally have an opportunity to have a good tax cut and all the politicians stand up and say 'No, no, don't do that,' and you wonder why? Because we have no local

control."

Lynn Brackel of Bowman offered a different view, saying that when the township needs new roads or a fire truck, the issue is taken to the voters. He wondered who they would talk to and who would listen in Bismarck if the services were needed.

Muecke, holding up his copy of "Property Tax Revolution," a book discussing Measure 2 and property taxes in depth, said that according to the language of the bill, special assessment requests would remain the same as they are today in that voters would make the choice.

"It's in the book," he said.

Tax shifting, the act of increasing one tax to decrease another, was also of concern.

Jon Godfread, vice president of governmental affairs for the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, said tax shifting could be needed if the amendment passes.

"If Measure 2 passes, the discussion we've just had doesn't happen anymore. It's done," he said. "We'll have to live with it. All the unintended consequences, all the tax shifts, everything like that, is what will be reality."

The press conference was one of six stops across the state this week for Keep It Local North Dakota.

To learn more about Keep It Local, visit www.keepitlocalnd.com.

To learn more about Empower the Taxpayer, visit www.empowerthetaxpayer.com.

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