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Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Men are generally idle, and ready to satisfy themselves, and intimidate the industry of others, by calling that impossible which is only difficult. —Samuel Johnson


Nearly 30,000 citizens of North Dakota signed their John Henrys on petitions to repeal the property tax.  The petitions were turned in last March, passed inspection, and we will see Measure #2—a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to repeal the ND property tax—appearing on the ballot a year from this June.

There has already been opposition to this bill, originating, in the main, from North Dakota’s foremost eminence grise, Lloyd Omdahl.  It is curious that he should be so dedicated to the defeat of the measure, since his dissing of property tax could scarcely be stronger; to wit, “It would take a book as fat as ‘War and Peace’ to enumerate the many evils of the property tax …”

So what is the dog that Lloyd Omdahl has in this race?  Let me spin a theory or two.

One of the recurring themes in the columns of Lloyd Omdahl has been the difficulty of doing just about anything.  Again and again in his columns dealing with the workings of state government, one comes upon expressions like “difficult,” “very difficult, “extremely difficult,” “nearly impossible,” “not so simple” and varying degrees of “complicated”.

In his recent column, “Property tax not so simple” (5-9-11), Prof. Omdahl not only tells us that issues involving the repeal of property tax are “not simple” (The claim of property tax simplicity has not been made by anyone as far as I know.).  He illustrates his assertion by generating a column written in a style to make property tax look like one of the grand mysteries of deep-space astrophysics.  It is a snow job.

Countering Omdahl’s Byzantine characterization of property-tax issues cannot be done—and need not be done—within the limitations of this column.

All that needs be said is that in 1969 the personal property tax, accounting for 20% of the overall property tax was eliminated, and the replacement revenues were identified and implemented. (Omdahl claims personal property tax was 15% of total property tax revenues.  That is incorrect.)  The process of shifting around revenue resources is not something strange to legislators, far from it.  Perhaps Lloyd Omdahl regards the legislators of his time as of a breed that no longer strides upon the prairies of this great state, and that the poor creatures legislating today could barely function without the achievements of his time.  For Prof. Omdahl, the achievements of his time in government are monuments to which all future generations must bow.  The upstarts and whippersnappers that currently make up the ND legislature  are apparently incapable of unraveling the evil mess that the property tax represents.  The property tax is more a rut than a monument.  Omdahl is in a preserve-the-property-tax rut and thinks it’s a monument—an evil thing, and immortal.

The property tax did not arise as an addendum to the Ten Commandments.  Its function and purpose has changed in many ways since the founding of this country.  Over the next several months proponents of repealing the property tax will present their case.  It will be presented clearly and openly.  Difficulties will be encountered in implementing the repeal, but we will not claim that it will be a simple matter, but it is entirely possible.  You will not be presented with a Lloyd Omdahl snow job.

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