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Measure 2 deemed 'dangerous' by opposition

Andy Peterson, president and CEO of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, speaks to a standing room- only group of people Wednesday who packed a room at the Fargo Carlson Library to hear about the negatives of Measure 2.

FARGO -- Leaders of Keep It Local North Dakota, a coalition opposed to an amendment eliminating North Dakota's property taxes, told a crowd here the proposal would threaten control of local government financing.

Measure 2, which will be on the state's primary election ballot June 12, would amend North Dakota's constitution by eliminating property taxes.

The measure would then give the Legislature authority to offset the lost revenue, which Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner estimated at $800 million per year, from other sources.

This, said North Dakota Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson, would take away financing control for basic services from local governments.

Peterson said this means the Legislature, which meets for 90 days every two years, would decide on how property dollars are spent instead of local officials.

"We think keeping it local is best, and we think it's most accountable," he said.

Craig Whitney, president of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged the state's property taxes are high, but said the tax structure should be examined instead of abolished altogether.

"We think it is one of the most reckless and dangerous pieces of public policy that's ever been brought before us," he said. "We believe it is very important that our local government have the local control that they do today."

State residents could find themselves paying higher income or sales taxes to make up for the loss of property tax revenue if the measure passes, Whitney said.

Peterson said Measure 2 is especially dangerous because it would permanently change the state's constitution, effectively taking future debate off the table.

"We won't be able to go back and say, 'Let's re-think this,'" he said.

Proponents of the measure argue it would spur economic development and attract people and businesses to the state.

Keep It Local North Dakota is made up of 55 business and civic organizations throughout the state, representing more than 200,000 people, Peterson said.

The coalition's news conference at the James Carlson Public Library in south Fargo on Wednesday was one of six stops throughout the state this week.

Benshoof is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned byForum Communications Co.