Two quixotic campaigns to put tax/budget measures on the North Dakota ballot are reminders of one of President Ronald Reagan’s signature lines: “Well, there you go again …”
Well, there they go again. Two separate efforts are underway. One would eliminate the property tax. (Sound familiar?) The other would force local governments into state-mandated budget schedules that could destroy the flexibility that local governments need to adjust spending to changing needs.
Both proposed measures are just short of ridiculous.
The group that in 2012 piloted Measure 2, the property tax repeal, to a spectacular crash-and-burn finish is back: new name, same nonsense. Fool Me Once is the new iteration of Empower the Taxpayer. The new name is supposed to be a clever rejoinder to the alleged failure of the Legislature and governor to pass property tax reform. Thus, the name itself is a false construct because no one was fooled. Mechanisms for reducing property taxes were extended, and taxes indeed did go down in many places. Reform, if necessary, was always understood to be a longer-term challenge. But backers of the measure aren’t really interested in reform. They won’t be satisfied until the property tax is repealed. Ain’t gonna happen.
The second measure is being championed by people who should know better: leaders of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, who claim they are representing their members. If that’s so (and it’s in question), the organization is in danger of being identified with a nut fringe of radical tax protesters and anti-(local) government gadflies.
The bureau wants the state to compel local governments to change budget procedures from a flexible one-year cycle to a two-year cycle, like the Legislature’s process. The proposal mandates that expenditures proposed by a locally elected commission or board would require a public vote. It’s an unworkable scheme that ignores on-the-ground realities of delivering services in counties, cities, school districts and townships.
In fact, the Farm Bureau’s anti-local government initiative would be first cousin to the Minnesota model, where nearly every local function is circumscribed by or directed from St. Paul. Similar oversight from Bismarck would be insulting to North Dakotans who opt to serve in local governments.
Less than two years ago, Measure 2’s rejection by a spectacular 77 percent of voters sent a message: North Dakotans value local government, even when they don’t agree with everything locally elected officials do. If disagreement is deep enough, there is a traditional and effective remedy: a local election. Apparently the Farm Bureau has no faith in the wisdom of voters, and would rather local governments be restricted by a legislative one-size-fits-all directive.
If either or both of the ill-conceived measures gets on the November ballot (petitions are not yet circulating), the same common-sense sentiment that doomed Measure 2 will animate voters again. Bet on it.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead’s Editorial Board formed this opinion.