Legislators near late-night compromise for property tax relief, K-12 funding
BISMARCK - Legislators were close to reaching a compromise after 11 p.m. Friday on their final day of the session to fund North Dakota's K-12 schools and provide property tax relief.
The issues hung in limbo throughout the day after House lawmakers defeated a bill early Friday, reversing the previous day's passage of Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposal to increase state aid to K-12 school districts while providing about $714 million in property tax relief.
Legislators put parts of that bill into House Bill 1013, which funds the Department of Public Instruction, to create a $657 million property tax relief bill. Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said amendments would be drafted Friday night so $200 million of that relief package would go to county auditors to be applied to individual property tax bills.
Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, said the compromise would bring the total amount of tax relief approved in this session to more than $1.1 billion.
"That's major tax relief now for the people of North Dakota," Cook said. "It's money back in their pockets."
Senate Bill 2036, which included the property tax relief, received a 39-2 vote in the Senate. It still required action in the House at press time Friday, but indications were that the legislators had reached a compromise.
Legislators had yet to meet on House Bill 1013 at press time.
Three bills still required final action about 11:30 p.m. Friday.
The House forced a day of negotiations when House Bill 1319 failed early 46-46 with two not voting; it needed 48 votes to pass.
The two absent members were both Democrats, Bill Amerman of Forman and Steven Zaiser of Fargo. No Democrats voted against the bill.
It had passed 49-42, with three members absent, Thursday.
Dakota Draper, North Dakota Education Association President, said he was "profoundly disappointed" in Friday morning's vote.
"Too often during this legislative session, partisanship has won out over reason as gamesmanship has replaced policymaking," he said. "Games should be played on the playground, they should not be played in the Legislature, especially when it comes to funding our state's most important responsibility - the education of our children."
"I'm very disappointed, it was a good education plan," Kirsten Baesler, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, said Friday morning. "Unfortunately there was a lot of talk of representing many groups of citizens, with very little talk of representing the 100,000-student population that are as much North Dakota citizens as any other."
Moments after the vote, Democratic leaders issued a news release calling the bill's defeat "legislative malpractice from a caucus leader and a group of followers who have become absolutely unglued," referring to Carlson.
"This is not a game, this is serious," said Democratic leaders. "This threatens one of the most basic functions of government -- the public education of North Dakota children. We urge Representative Carlson to reverse course before further damage is done."
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, came out against the bill during its original debate Thursday, saying it doesn't have enough tax reform.
He muffled Friday's argument that many said the bill needed to be passed since it was the last day of the session.
"When it comes down to doing the right thing, it shouldn't matter how long it takes," he said.
Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Bismarck, chaired the bill's conference committee. Pushing for the bill, he asked the House body where its plan was for property tax relief.
"We had a whole year to come up with a property tax relief plan," he said Friday morning. "Now we come up with it on day 80, I don't see the logic in that."
The North Dakota Legislature made history Friday by entering the 80th day of a legislative session.
The longest session in modern history was 2009 when legislators met for 79 days. Under the state constitution, legislators can meet for 80 days every two years.
In 2011, the session lasted 78 days.
Reporters TJ Jerke and Wendy Reuer contributed to this story.