Ex-Governor Ed Schafer and Lloyd Omdahl have recently teamed up to inflict a much-ballyhooed powerhouse dog-and-pony (fox and weasel?) anti-Measure 2 magic act on North Dakota voters. It is based on well-honed techniques of sleight-of-hand, misdirection and other entertainments.
It is disappointing to read so many misleading statements by two people of such high repute. Omdahl and Schafer contend that their position on Measure 2—the abolition of the property tax in North Dakota— has been misrepresented. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the Empower the Taxpayer website, and elsewhere, it has been clearly stated that Ed Schafer intends to vote No on Measure 2. That Lloyd Omdahl will vote No on M2 goes without saying. No one has ever hinted otherwise. As for Ed Schafer’s “position”, I can only say that one should go to the Empower the Taxpayer website, watch the video, and judge whether he has been “quoted out of context.” Ed Schafer is peddling backpedaling hokum. His “primary concern” is the effect Measure 2 might have on his efforts to lower the oil tax.
Smoke and mirrors
The “Local Control” issue is just smoke and mirrors. There is little, if any, local control. If you raise serious property tax questions locally, local officials tell you that they are subject to state guidelines; if you raise serious property tax issues with the state, they tell you that it’s a local matter. I have personally experienced this, and so have many others. Why this sudden concern about “local control” by the political class and their beneficiaries? Follow the money. Follow the power.
“Fully and properly funded” is well understood in legal language and can be given clear definition by formulas such as already exist. If you google “fully and properly” you will find the expression used—without quibble and sophistry—in major legal documents of all kinds. Omdahl’s and Schafer’s mock confusion over what “fully and properly funded” means is disingenuous. They are taking their cue from Bill Clinton—“It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Pure sophistry.
Allow me to give but a few examples of the use of the legal expression “fully and properly funded”:
In Trusts and Estates: “Once the trust is prepared and fully and properly funded, individuals can be assured that their estate will be handled and passed to their loved ones ...”
From the Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs: “The ‘Transitional Pharmacy Benefit’ would never have been necessary if the veterans health care system were fully and properly funded to take care of the ...”
Alternatives for Funding Buy-Sell Agreements: “But this is far offset by the great peace of mind attained by all parties when the buy-sell is fully and properly funded.”
From the Tom Dunlap Candidacy, WY: “Tom recognizes the particular problem of five hospitals in District 1 and Wyoming’s nine other critical access hospitals and will strive to keep these valuable industries fully and properly funded in Wyoming by working with administrators to meet the requirements for federal Medicare funding.”
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2004:
“the President should ensure that sufficient budgetary resources are provided to the Department of Defense to fully execute the program and to further ensure that all other critical defense programs are fully and properly funded.”
No one I know promotes Measure 2 as a “tax cut”. Empower the Taxpayer has stated over and over that it is nothing of the sort. Measure 2 gives you more control over your money, but services still have to be paid for. It all comes out of the same pocket—ours. It is our money, not the government’s. The tax shift certainly does not mean anyone “wants someone else to pay” for services. Who is this mythical “Someone Else?“ There are the people of North Dakota. There is no one else. The issues are owning one’s home and fair taxation.
Yes, it is unusual that the elderly get “thrown out of their homes because they can’t pay their property taxes,” yet such cases exist, and they shouldn’t. Schafer, Omdahl and their ilk want to dwell on the melodramatic image of Oil Can Harry tossing Little Nell and her grandmother into the street. As a rule, county officials go to great lengths to avoid that. First of all, it should be impossible for anyone to be kicked out of their home for tax reasons. Secondly, a much larger number of elderly, and those in financial distress, see the handwriting on the wall re property tax expense, sell their homes, and move into low-rent—often subsidized—alternatives. According to AARP, 29% of those taking reverse mortgages use the money to pay off property tax, greatly reducing their quality of life in their few remaining years. The bureaucrats do, however, love having citizens beg them for indulgences such as Homestead Credit so that they may continue to live in their “own” homes.
Picking Pockets—After shaking hands, count your fingers
Yes, the legislature loves to dish out tax relief at opportune times, a small enough gesture to fend off popular demands for a serious reckoning. To do this now and then serves their political purposes. Like the federal income tax, property tax is a tool for political manipulation. It is a device for government intrusion into the private sector, picking winners and losers at the taxpayers’ expense. We see how well that works on the national level! Wouldn’t we all like to gamble with huge amounts of other people’s money and reward friends? The property tax has been “fixed” 135 times since 1981 and is still one big lemon for us all to suck on.
Get rid of the property tax and so many unfair practices go away it is hard to count them all. As Professor Omdahl himself says, “The evils of the property tax would fill a volume the size of War and Peace.” I used to think His Omdahlness was exaggerating. Understanding the motives of the organized Measure 2 opposition, observing their actions, and hearing their arguments have caused me to think that the good professor has understated the case.
For the organized Measure 2 opposition, it’s all about who rules and how, and nothing about the principle of truly owning one’s home. It’s all about their problems, their power, and their fears—not ours.
Fortune-telling and mind-reading
Yes, we cannot know all the “unintended consequences” of Measure 2. By very definition, unintended consequences cannot be known. They may be bad, and they may be good. No non-trivial action by human beings is without unintended consequences. Lifting a fork of spaghetti to one's mouth may well have “unintended consequences.” So what are we supposed to do—lie still on the couch and sacrifice our sense of what is right (and, ultimately, our lives) to the non-existent Great God of Absolute Certainty? Omdahl and Schafer need to hike up their skirts, jump on a chair, and let the people clean up the property tax mess with the Measure 2 mop.
We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.—C.S. Lewis