TREASURE ISLAND - COINS AND PRECIOUS METALS
The political season is upon us and North Dakota is not exempt. As conventions and primaries approach one of the items stirring up sentiment is Measure 2.
We haven’t reached the February midpoint, yet emotions run high over Measure 2. To wit, proponents of the measure are accusing opponents of deliberately lying in their objections to the measure. Tsk, tsk.
Measure 2 is a proposal to amend the North Dakota Constitution to prohibit political subdivisions from levying taxes on the assessed value of property. Political subdivisions include cities, counties, school districts, townships, water districts, fire protection districts and soil conservation districts. Measure 2 will be on the primary election ballot June 12.
Empower the Taxpayer supports Measure 2. North Dakota League of Cities, North Dakota County Commissioners Association, AARP and others, opposes it. (Note: Opposition entities for the most part are recipients of government largess.) By the time the North Dakota Republican Convention kicks off on March 31 the proponents and the opposition will be at it tooth and nail.
So, what does Measure 2 do?
-- Measure 2 abolishes property taxes effective January 1, 2012.
-- Services now funded by property tax would be funded by North Dakota oil revenue.
-- All local operations would not necessarily be funded. Only “legally imposed obligations” must be funded. “Legally imposed obligations” is not defined by Measure 2 or by law.
-- Police and fire protection may or may not be considered a “legally imposed obligation.” The obligation might be determined by “first impression,” or the legislature may define it.
-- Local officials would still have “sole discretion” over expenditure of their budgets. How each jurisdiction would be administered their share of funding would be determined by the legislature -- unless the legislature chose to defer the decision-making authority to some bureaucratic agency. As a template from the federal level, we’ve already seen legislation granting Health and Human Services and other departments the regulation and decision-making authority affecting funding.
It is easy to fall for the emotional appeal of “no more taxes” and “You won’t lose your home if you can’t pay your taxes.” Given a prevalent welfare mentality, it is also easy to buy into the notion to let someone else pay the bills. Emotion must be tempered with rational judgment.
Authors of Measure 2 are not necessarily advocating their position altruistically out of the goodness of their heart. Hard questions to ask are “What’s in it for them?” and “What’s going on behind the scenes to motivate the writing of Measure 2?”
A single major source of revenue for towns and counties such as oil might be placed in jeopardy given an adverse political environment. Certainly oil-rich North Dakota is a wonder to behold. But, converting oil to revenue for equitable distribution is another matter. We have witnessed onerous political decisions at the national level halting the flow of oil from Anwar in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico and Canada via the Keystone Pipeline. Capricious political decisions generated this travesty. Bad political decisions via federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service or other federal agencies could very easily put the kibosh on North Dakota’s source of revenue proposed by Measure 2. It might be safer to sustain a diversified and decentralized revenue stream with many people having a vested interest.
Be careful what you wish for. Ask questions until you are satisfied with the answers. Think beyond “stage one” of Measure 2, that is, beyond the promises and the immediate gratification. What are the potential political and economic unintended consequences once Measure 2 is adopted? If you are not comfortable with the answers, trust your instincts.
An old adage is a spin-off of the Golden Rule and it goes like this: He who has the gold makes the rules. Towns and counties relying upon one major source of revenue to be distributed by a legislative committee or, worse yet, by a state agency implementing a sterile and impersonal formula drawn up by another legislative committee is something each voter should think through very carefully before voting for or against Measure 2.