ND Dems hope for bipartisanship in latter half of Legislature to maximize prosperityRecently, our friends and colleagues, House Majority Leader Al Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, candidly compared the first half of the North Dakota legislative session to “watching sausage being made.” We reluctantly agree, but hope our counterparts in the majority will now set aside the partisan meat grinder and work with us to maximize our state’s prosperity during the session’s remaining days. Because as things stand, some of the actions taken by the GOP majority this session threaten to churn North Dakota’s prime opportunities into something more closely resembling mincemeat.
By: Mac Schneider and Kenton Onstad, Legislative Column
Recently, our friends and colleagues, House Majority Leader Al Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, candidly compared the first half of the North Dakota legislative session to “watching sausage being made.” We reluctantly agree, but hope our counterparts in the majority will now set aside the partisan meat grinder and work with us to maximize our state’s prosperity during the session’s remaining days. Because as things stand, some of the actions taken by the GOP majority this session threaten to churn North Dakota’s prime opportunities into something more closely resembling mincemeat.
Take the radical and reckless cut to the oil extraction tax, something even Carlson and Wardner identify as “[o]ne of the most controversial issues this session[.]” The reason for this controversy is apparent: The GOP’s cut to the oil extraction tax is projected to cost the people of North Dakota $595 million in the first five years alone and, literally, billions in the coming decades. Those billions should be used to address oil impacts, fund education, and deepen and sustain property tax relief. That the majority is even considering such a sharp reduction in the oil extraction tax before we have a grip on the challenges to our infrastructure and quality of life in western North Dakota is a case of stunningly misplaced priorities.
The majority leaders have also alleged that the GOP oil tax plan “eliminat[es] the stripper well loophole[.]” It does no such thing. In fact, by grandfathering in existing stripper wells that produce 150 barrels or less per day, it actually cements open this loophole and ensures these wells will never pay a dime in the oil extraction tax. By setting the stripper well threshold for new wells at 40 barrels per day, the plan also ensures that even high-producing Bakken wells will one day revert to stripper well status once production declines. Therefore, even if you believe that a 31 percent cut to the oil extraction tax should be given “[i]n exchange” for closure of a loophole that never made sense in the first place, the GOP approach fails the people of North Dakota.
The majority’s insistence upon these deep cuts to the oil extraction tax, coupled with permanent reductions to corporate and personal income taxes, undermine Carlson and Wardner’s claims that they are focused “especially on property tax relief.” To the contrary, it was Dem-NPL senators who supported a floor amendment which would have re-directed $250 million in tax cuts for corporations and reductions in the personal income tax towards deeper property tax cuts, a measure which would have lowered property taxes by 12.5 percent across the board. Instead, the GOP rejected this property tax relief in favor of tax breaks that North Dakotans themselves rejected overwhelmingly and relatively recently at the ballot box.
The leaders have also made notable omissions when touting their commitment to improving infrastructure, especially when it comes to “water and flood control projects[.]” Most glaringly, Majority Leader Carlson personally authored an amendment to a key water bill that would scuttle the flood protection plan for Fargo, the city he represents. Protecting North Dakota’s largest city from flooding should be a statewide priority. At the very least, local leaders shouldn’t have to fend off opposition from their own elected representatives.
To be fair, we enjoy working with Carlson and Wardner, and we were glad to see the majority embrace priorities like pre-kindergarten education and the sensible expansion of Medicaid during the first half of the session. However, when you plate the GOP’s lack of focus on property tax relief and its aggressive push to pass oil extraction tax breaks alongside the majority’s refusal to fund milk for schoolchildren and unwillingness to address the childcare crisis, we can’t help but think they’ve ground out the wrong product for North Dakota.
Scheider is the District 42 senator and Onstad is the District 4 Representative.