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Clothes tax exemption questioned

Press Photo by John Odermann Dickinson resident Jack Olin asks a question of legislators during 'Coffee with Your Legislators' at Dickinson City Hall Saturday.1 / 2
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Property tax relief is one of the stated goals North Dakota state legislators have pointed to all session for the 2009-2011 biennium.

During a "Coffee with Your Legislators" event held Saturday at Dickinson City Hall, several residents questioned whether or not true property tax relief is possible if certain bills being discussed in Bismarck pass.

Carson Steiner, a Dickinson commissioner, said House Bill 1268, which would institute a sales tax exemption for clothes, would negatively affect the city.

"If this bill passes the Senate -- it already passed the House -- I don't know if everyone understood the effect that this would have on the communities," Steiner said. "We depend on sales tax. It is one of the more fair taxes about how obviously we get a lot of our work done."

The bill passed House approval by a tally of 66-26 and has been referred to the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday.

Estimates show Dickinson could lose up to $800,000 in sales tax revenue, Steiner said, adding "How do we replace that money?"

Sen. George Nodland, R-Dickinson, said it's a difficult issue to deal with because the people of North Dakota are sick and tired of taxes, but it needs to be delicately balanced.

"We have to give tax relief, we have to sustain our budget, we have to provide the services and we have to look at the future," Nodland said.

Nodland said the United States faces tough economic times right now and North Dakota will eventually start to feel that, but the sales tax exemption may not be the answer.

"I think sales tax is the fairest tax," Nodland said, adding he would vote against the exemption.

Nodland alluded to individuals taking personal responsibility for their spending as part of the solution to economic crisis.

"Everybody has lived beyond their means the last 10 to 20 years, everyone has lived beyond their means," Nodland said.

Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, said the exemption allows tax relief for everyone at every income level, whereas income tax relief that had been proposed favored the higher income brackets.

"You can't just keep expecting the lower end of the pay scale to be picking up the vast majority of the taxes and the people who are making the very most money -- I don't think they should be the ones getting the biggest tax break," Meyer said.

Rep. Mike Schatz, R-Dickinson, said there has been discussion on the sales tax revenue being made up elsewhere with the increase in corporate sales tax revenue, which would result from the bill once passed.

Other topics brought up by the public included prescription drug bill, HB 1440, which was defeated in the house, traffic ticket fines and weed free hay.

Two residents also stood up and thanked Meyer and Schatz for voting for HB 1572, which define life as beginning at conception. The bill passed the House and has moved onto the Senate for review.

The public was also provided an update on the budget process from Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson.

Wardner said there are those who want to spend it all and those who want to save some of it and he hopes the state takes a more conservative approach, especially in regards to the permanent oil trust fund.

"It's almost like a cookie jar, and you're going to have to have somebody there to slap people's hands to keep out of it, or we won't have any money," Wardner said. "We got to be very careful. So there's a lot of planning and strategy and stuff as we go to the end."