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Port: 'But property taxes' is not a good argument against flattening North Dakota's income taxes

Let's not let good income tax reform be defeated by more bad property tax policy.

Gov. Doug Burgum announces the Relief for All income tax relief proposal on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck, joined by (from left) Rep. Glenn Bosch, Rep. Jason Dockter, House Finance and Taxation Committee chairman Rep. Craig Headland, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, State Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus, Sen. Jordan Kannianen and Sen. Scott Meyer.
Gov. Doug Burgum announces the Relief for All income tax relief proposal on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, at the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck, joined by (from left) Rep. Glenn Bosch, Rep. Jason Dockter, House Finance and Taxation Committee chairman Rep. Craig Headland, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, State Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus, Sen. Jordan Kannianen and Sen. Scott Meyer.
Photo courtesy of Gov. Doug Burgum's office
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MINOT, N.D. — Last month a group of Republican leaders — including Gov. Doug Burgum, Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus, and state Rep. Craig Headland — announced a plan to flatten North Dakota's income tax .

Currently, North Dakota has five income tax brackets. The flat tax plan would narrow those to just one, and eliminate the tax for most North Dakotans.

Tax Commissioner Brian Kroshus and state Rep. Craig Headland discussing income tax reform on Plain Talk


Single income filers making $54,725 or less in adjusted gross income, and all married filers making $95,600 or less would pay no income tax at all. That's roughly 60% of the state.

Those making above those levels — the remaining 40% — would pay a flat 1.5% .

The proposal has come under fire from both the left and the far right, and they're basically making the same argument.

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North Dakotans don't want income tax relief, they tell us.

North Dakotans want property tax relief.

“As I’m going door to door talking to people, their major concern is property tax,” Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, a Democrat from Fargo , has said. “And income tax, we know it’s relatively low for the 60% people who are going to pay nothing, but they don’t generally mind it. They don’t mind paying that state income tax.”

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"That'll be for Coach Berry to make a determination," UND President Andrew Armacost said on this episode of Plain Talk.
"We're still left with many questions," Port writes.

Lori VanWinkle, a Minot Republican currently running for the state House, also says the Legislature should be focused on the property tax. She even goes so far as to say, incorrectly, that taxing property to fund schools is unconstitutional.

“I believe every single family will see yet another year of increase on their property tax,” VanWinkle said . “I ask this question. What is the math and the end result of an income tax reduction versus an elimination of the property tax? At the end of the day what do I as a tax paying citizen get from one or the other. We are paying unconstitutionally for our education system in our property tax for one thing, considering it is law that the legislative assembly shall provide for the free system of schooling.”

Piepkorn doesn't want to cut taxes because he's a liberal and would rather spend the money.

VanWinkle is a Rick Becker disciple from the Bastiat Caucus wing of the NDGOP who is probably opposing income tax cuts just because Burgum, that faction's bête noire, is for them.

Whatever their motivations, the "but property taxes" argument falls flat.

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The Legislature has been trying to deliver property tax relief for decades. It hasn't worked. People are still complaining about their property taxes.

The Legislature has sent billions to the local level to buy down property taxes. It hasn't worked because the people who do the spending that drives your property taxes aren't in the Legislature. They're on the park board and the school board and the county commission, etc.

Don't like your property tax bill? Talk to them.

The Legislature, meanwhile, must stop listening to people such as Piepkorn and VanWinkle, and stop trying to lower a tax they don't control.

If they want to deliver tax relief, the income tax is a good vehicle for it, because it is something the Legislature controls.

This column initially indicated that VanWinkle is running unopposed for the state House of Representatives. That was incorrect. Joey Nesdahl, endorsed by the Democratic-NPL, is also running for that seat against VanWinkle and incumbent Republican Jeff Hoverson.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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