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Initiated measures face deadlines

BISMARCK -- Sponsors of a North Dakota tax cut initiative say they'll meet a July 21 deadline to get their measure on the ballot, despite typographical errors that state officials say could give some taxpayers an even bigger break than sponsors planned.

Not to worry, sponsors say; the errors are meaningless and have no effect.

The initiated measure was started a year ago with former Gov. Ed Schafer the first to sign the petition.

It's the first of eight pending law changes or constitutional amendments that could conceivably be on this November's ballot.

A ninth measure that was approved by the 2007 Legislature is assured a spot on the ballot.

State law allows all initiated measures a full year to gather signatures -- 12,844 for changing a law or 25,688 for amending the constitution -- no matter when they are begun.

All eight sponsoring committees are aiming for the Aug. 5 deadline to get on this year's November ballot, whether they began gathering petitions last summer or two months ago.

Aug. 5 is the deadline because it is, 90 days before Election Day.

Many plan to gather signatures at the State Fair and local summer events.

Tax measure sponsors must turn in at least 12,844 valid signatures by July 21, because they began collecting last July.

The measure proposes to cut in half the North Dakota individual income tax rate and cut by 15 percent the corporate income tax rate.

Last month the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce asked Tax Commissioner Cory Fong if the tax measure doesn't contain flaws.

Chamber President Kelvin Hullet wrote that discrepancies in the ballot language appear to give some married taxpayers who file separately and have between $83,000 and $93,000 taxable income hundreds of dollars additional tax relief.

A similar discrepancy appears to forgive up to $58,000 of taxable income for heads of households with incomes between approximately $93,000 and $151,000.

Other heads of households who make up to $300,000 appear to be in line for a slightly smaller tax decrease than the 50 percent cut that the sponsors envision, Hullet wrote.

If this is true, Hullet wondered, can the Tax Department or Secretary of State Al Jaeger fix the discrepancies?

A Tax Department official agreed there appear to be mistakes in the ballot text.

"We concur with the findings of the Chamber subcommittee," wrote research analyst Kathryn Strombeck on June 9.

But, she wrote, "The tax commissioner does not have the authority to change any aspect of the petition at any time."

Secretary of State Al Jaeger said he can't, either.

"I have no authority to make changes to the submitted text," he wrote to Hullet.

In an interview Thursday, Jaeger said, "Once it is in, the way it is given to me, is the way it is," he said.

But Dustin Gawrylow of Americans for Prosperity said Thursday that committee sponsors are aware of the discrepancies and are confident they are harmless typos that won't affect the law change being sought.

As with legislative bills, measures are written with new laws underlined and text that will be changed is printed with a strike-through.

Gawrylow said the mistakes at issue in text are neither underlined nor struck through and will be "ignored" in the eyes of the law.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.