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Tax commissioner challenger says he would resign if he were in his opponent’s situation

FARGO - In announcing a proposal for $1.14 billion in tax relief Tuesday, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota tax commissioner said that if he was in the same position as his embattled opponent, he would seriously consider resigning.

FARGO – In announcing a proposal for $1.14 billion in tax relief Tuesday, the Democratic candidate for North Dakota tax commissioner said that if he was in the same position as his embattled opponent, he would seriously consider resigning.

Jason Astrup, a Fargo attorney, is challenging incumbent Ryan Rauschenberger, a Republican who recently took a leave of absence for alcohol treatment.

“I think everyone’s health should come first,” Astrup said during a news conference at Fargo’s main library. “And in order to spend the time to get myself better, I don’t think I could adequately serve the people if I was in his shoes.”

Rauschenberger released a statement Thursday saying he was taking a temporary unpaid leave of absence to seek more professional help, after acknowledging a day earlier that he had been receiving inpatient and outpatient treatment.

That revelation came on the heels of news that he had lent his 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe to an alleged drunken driver who rolled the vehicle the afternoon of Sept. 2 in Mandan. Rauschenberger came under more scrutiny when a police report revealed that he had rear-ended a vehicle that morning in north Bismarck, about 6½ hours before the rollover.

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Democrats are asking for answers to what happened in the hours between the two crashes and why Rauschenberger had been hanging out on a workday at the home of the driver who rolled his Tahoe, 22-year-old Jesse Larson of Mandan. Rauschenberger has said he met Larson in treatment.

Rauschenberger was cited for care required in the rear-end crash. Bismarck police said the responding officer didn’t test Rauschenberger for alcohol or drugs at the scene, but indicated on the accident report that neither appeared to be a factor in the crash.

 

‘Serious questions’

Not knowing all the facts of his opponent’s situation, Astrup stopped short of calling for Rauschenberger to resign.

“I think we all know the questions the (Democratic) party has laid out. I think they’re serious questions. Both parties have said Ryan needs to answer these questions,” Astrup said.

Phone messages left for Rauschenberger were not returned Tuesday. Last week, he said he was confident he’ll be back on the campaign trail in a few weeks.

 

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‘Billions of dollars’

Rauschenberger’s troubles aside, the focus of Astrup’s news conference in Fargo was his proposal for $670 million in property tax relief and $468 million in income tax relief – a total of $1.14 billion per biennium.

“The state’s sitting on billions of dollars, and this is ($1.1 billion) over a biennium, so I think it’s easily affordable,” Astrup said.

The plan, which legislators would need to approve, would create an income tax exemption on the first $40,000 of taxable income for single filers and the first $80,000 of taxable income for married couples. Income over those two levels would be taxed at 2.52 percent.

This would simplify the tax code into a single tax bracket, and it would eliminate state income taxes for the bottom 57 percent of North Dakota earners, he said.

Astrup said he favors making permanent the 12 percent property tax credit passed during the last legislative session. He also supports a homestead property tax credit, which would make the first $75,000 of a home’s assessed value exempt from property taxes. For a $155,000 house in Cass County, that would mean an annual reduction of $1,100, he said.

Astrup also floated the idea of a tax credit for renters. Under his plan, someone paying $833 a month in rent would save $500 a year. “Right now, renters aren’t seeing any of this property tax relief passed down to them,” he said.

Rauschenberger recently proposed $857 million to $1.36 billion in property tax relief over the next two years. His plan would boost last session’s property tax credit from 12 percent to 25 percent. The owner of a $200,000 house would annually save an average of $2,000 in property taxes, according to a news release from the state Republican Party.

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Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.

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