ND House advances proposals for voters

Property tax out, but term limits remain

Screenshot Photo Rep. Lori VanWinkle of Minot rises to speak on the House floor during debate on resolutions calling for various constitutional measures Tuesday.

BISMARCK – North Dakota voters won’t get the chance to vote to eliminate property taxes, but a new term limits measure remains a possibility.

The North Dakota House soundly defeated House Concurrent Resolution 3024 on an 18-75 vote Tuesday.

Sponsor Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Minot, acknowledged the resolution for a ballot measure to eliminate property taxes is a big leap. However, he said, the best place for tax dollars is in the people’s pocket.

“The economic boom that would be a result of passing this bill to eliminate property tax would probably be one of the biggest booms we could do as a government, especially in a season when we’re constantly saying, ‘How do we get workers to come to our state? How do we get businesses to come to our state?'” he said.

Rep. Lori VanWinkle, R-Minot, said eliminating property taxes would do more for taxpayers than a Republican proposal to reduce state individual income taxes.

“We are a rich state and nothing but pacifiers are provided for taxpayers in an effort to shut them up and divert their attention from the thievery of property tax. North Dakota’s wealth belongs to its citizens, and it should be invested in the citizens and not just growing government,” she said.

Rep. Scott Wagner, R-Fargo, said it isn’t good for the state to control all the local revenue.

“So what – we’re going to have a distribution formula for how many cops, patrolmen and women we are going to have on our streets? What’s that formula look like?” he said. He noted North Dakotans rejected a measure to eliminate property taxes in 2012.

“The citizens have spoken on this issue, and I think we ought to respect their vote,” he said.

Other legislators who spoke against the resolution objected to a provision to impose a sales tax sufficient to fund the political subdivisions. It also allows the Legislature to convene for up to 20 days to determine distribution.

“One way to drive retail business out of the state – double or triple your sales tax,” said Rep. Mitch Ostlie, R-Jamestown.

“I don’t think we need to raise sales tax,” Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said. “You put money back into people’s hands, you’re going to see an increase in sales tax revenue without touching the percent at all.”

Ruby also said the state already has considerable revenue without collecting more and already has experience with formulas for sending money to political subdivisions.

“I would ask that we just go ahead, put this on the ballot, see if people have changed their mind on it,” he said.

“We’re doing very well financially in this state right now, but we’re basing that on a commodity,” said Rep. Mike Lefor, R-Dickinson of the oil taxes that have poured into the state. “We can’t bet our future on revenue from a commodity.”

Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, said the problem with property taxes is the tax system.

“I’m going to vote red on this resolution, but I’m hoping this will kind of be a sign to all of us that we need to reform this system. We need to deal with the increases in property taxes and change it so it is truly a fee-for-service-type system,” he said.

House Concurrent Resolution 3019, which would ask voters to change the term limits they approved last November, passed 63-29 and now goes to the state Senate.

The resolution seeks to replace the eight-year cumulative term limits for the governor and legislators now in the constitution with 12-year consecutive term limits that include other elected state officials.

“If we are going to term limit the governor, then we should be term limiting all statewide elected officials,” Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, said.

Legislators and other officials would be eligible for another 12 years after being out of office at least four years. The resolution specifies 12 years in the House and 12 years in the Senate.

VanWinkle pointed out resolution sponsor Rep. James Kasper, R-Fargo, had signed a statement in 2020 that he would support eight-year term limits for legislators.

“But here he is today, taking the charge that we bypass the constitutional provision of doing an initiated measure to change these term limits, and I think it’s unconstitutional to bring it forward this way,” she said.

VanWinkle added Kasper allegedly took money from U.S. Term Limits, which largely funded the last measure campaign, although Louser reported he reviewed campaign records and saw no legislators who received money from U.S. Term Limits.

Kasper has said he revoked his pledge to support eight-year term limits after the 2020 election, in September 2021.

Rep. Brandy Pyle, R-Casselton, said too much legislator turnover creates a loss of historical and institutional knowledge that will require more legislator training and possibly annual sessions as well as a greater workload on state agencies.

“We all know that this is going to cost more. We’ve already started budgeting for it,” she said. “This will cost North Dakota millions and millions of dollars.”

House members also supported House Concurrent Resolution 3020, which would ask voters to allow legislators to meet in a regular session up to 100 days every two years, or up to 120 days upon a two-thirds vote of each house. It also would allow legislators to reconvene to consider a governor’s veto.

On the losing end of a 74-18 vote, Hoverson argued longer sessions aren’t beneficial.

“I don’t think we actually use our time more efficiently. We’ll just add more laws, more regulations, more taxes, more clutter,” he said.

Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman, said the Legislature is the weakest branch of government due to its frequent absence, leaving too many decisions to the governor’s office.

“The most efficient form of government is a benevolent dictator, and that’s kind of where we’re going with this in a lot of ways,” he said.

The House killed House Concurrent Resolution 3031, which called for a public vote to establish a means of electronic signature gathering on initiated measure petitions and to increase the number of signatures required to get a measure on the ballot.

Louser argued the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office isn’t prepared to develop a system.

“We don’t even know what a digital signature is,” he said. “We don’t have the system in place just to witness the signatures. I question whether people want to provide their photo ID in some digital format to signature gathers or, for that matter, if it goes to the Secretary of State.

“I don’t think we put this on the ballot before it’s ready for primetime,” he added.

Resolution sponsor Rep. Steve Vetter, R-Grand Forks, said if voters are asked to increase the threshold to get a measure passed, the Legislature needs to give them electronic signature gathering in return.

HCR 3031 increased the number of signatures from 2% to 5% for statutory measures and 4% to 10% for constitutional measures and requires the measures pass in a primary and general election, both statewide and in a majority of legislative districts.

The House also approved House Concurrent Resolution 3033 on a 67-24 vote. Voters would be asked to amend the constitution to provide for transfer of a percent of earnings from the Legacy Fund into a separate fund from which the Legislature may spend.

The approved resolutions now go to the Senate.


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