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ND House clears bill for more K-12 funding, property tax relief

BISMARCK -- House lawmakers Thursday narrowly passed Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposal to increase state funding toward K-12 education while creating $714 million in property tax relief.

But minutes after House Bill 1319 passed 49-42, a push began to secure enough votes to reconsider the vote this morning -- as the Legislature enters its last day of the session -- so the bill can ultimately be defeated.

"It puts us on a vicious treadmill we will never get off," said Rep. Jim Kasper, R-Fargo, who began lobbying lawmakers to vote against the bill. "We won't have control of the spending."

The Senate could have taken up the bill Thursday evening but did not. A Senate vote would have kept the House from taking a second look at the bill.

The bill was crafted to provide relief by increasing the state's share of K-12 education funding, allowing school districts to lower taxes.

Kasper said his concern is that the state's commitment of $8,810 per student during the first year and $9,092 the second is too high.

The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. David Monson, R-Osnabrock, said people shouldn't be concerned about the cost because the state is in a position to afford it. He said the average cost of educating one student is more than $10,000, so the state is being conservative.

House members spent an hour struggling with the bill, debating whether it's a good school funding bill or property tax buydown.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Grand Forks, said the bill gives the state more control than it's ever had over payments to schools and tax relief.

The bill increases the state share of school funding to about 80 percent, which the Legislature will be able to control every two years and adjust the state payments if local property taxes go up, Sanford said.

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the Legislature usually is blamed for high property taxes despite the fact that they are controlled and assessed at the local level.

Voting against the legislation, he called it a school subsidy bill.

"We give money to school districts and tell them in return they need to lower their property taxes," he said.

Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, also voted against the bill, wanting more property tax reform built into it.

"We need to have reform, need to do the right thing, not just the something," he said.

The bill also includes $50 million from coal development and $150 million from the Strategic Investment Fund for school construction loans.

It also carries a provision allowing a school to use resources to provide eligible students with one serving of milk or juice if a school has a midmorning snack break. That was taken out early in the session.