ND’s oil tax money belongs to everybody

Dear Legislator:

According to the newspapers I see you are still in Bismarck trying to sort through all of the money that has come to the state through oil taxes. As a former State Budget Director and Tax Commissioner, I am somewhat familiar with state finances so I am qualified to talk with you about revenue.

First, we must concede that the oil tax is not an ordinary one. It is a temporary windfall that is different than sales taxes, income taxes and property taxes in that North Dakota taxpayers contributed nothing to it.

This tells us that it must be credited to the people of state as a whole, meaning that all 780,000 residents have a stake in spending. Up until today, I haven’t noticed a legislative attitude that reflects ownership by everyone in North Dakota. 

Now I would like to ask a few questions about disbursements thus far. We have 116,000 kids in public schools and I wonder what you did with their share.

YOU WHAT? You gave their money in tax cuts for a booming oil industry because they would leave the state if we didn’t give them a break.

That’s bunk. The oil is here and they aren’t going anywhere. We have 70,000 people below the poverty line. What did you do with their share?

YOU WHAT? You gave their money to a few wealthy people who claimed they needed income tax cuts.

We have 9,400 underpaid school teachers who need raises….

YOU WHAT? You gave their money to the oil people. 

Now we have 52,000 people with disabilities. I hope you….

YOU WHAT? Gave their money for research the oil companies ought to pay for themselves. 

It sounds like a citizen legislature is playing its role pretty well. So let’s talk about the 23,400 single moms who need child care in order to keep their jobs. What did you do with their share? 

YOU WHAT? Gave their share to cut the property tax for railroads, power companies and a bunch of others.

I hope you are aware of the fact that the North Dakota tax structure is already regressive, meaning the lower income folks are paying more than their share in order for the upper income people to get the tax breaks.

I haven’t seen anything about giving teachers, school kids, the poor, disabled and single moms their share of the money that belongs to them. They are entitled to share in this largesse.

You know, this looks like we have bought into Darwinism in which survival of the fittest is the rule and the weak can die. That may be true in the animal kingdom but we are human beings created equal in the eyes of God so rugged individualism goes only so far. 

I know you have a chaplain who offers prayer on your behalf in every daily session. Most of these chaplains are Christians and probably offer remarks from the New Testament – like love one another, be Good Samaritans, feed God’s starving children and help the fallen.

I imagine a majority of the legislators are professing Christians but I am having a hard time seeing Christian compassion when we take money that rightly belongs to some and give it to others who have no right to more than their share. The chaplains are wasting their time.

(The two senators who turned their backs to the chaplain should have been escorted out of the chamber by the sergeant-at-arms.)

We like to brag about North Dakota values. The rhetoric sounds good but the state budget says otherwise. On a personal basis, we do care about others but we have a moral problem when it comes to public policy.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.


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