The Hard Solution on Property Taxes

Local control is the lynchpin of our representative republican form of government.

Yet somehow we think the state can swoop in and relieve the burdensome property tax that counties and municipalities have implemented. We can’t have it both ways folks.

Sure the state has a part to play by increasing its share of funding in the education formula, but that is not going to be the silver bullet to this problem either. We must realize that we have two options when it comes to what we as voters can do.

The best option is to demand our local officials stop spending on things that we don’t really need when there is an education funding problem. We can all agree that decent roads and good schools are necessities, so let’s focus on funding those first and create a list of priorities of what is truly needed, and what we can do without from a public spending standpoint. The voters collectively must become educated on the fact that taxes are high because cities are just spending way too much.

If taxpayers neglect to become educated and hold their local officials accountable, but still insist the state come in and save the day, there is only one solution that our legislators should consider – regulation of discretionary spending.

If voters as taxpayers continue to elect people based on what they promise us at the local level, and expect the state to bail us out, then we must also be prepared for them to base their contribution on the local official’s frugalness. This means that the state will be able to tell local officials they can’t spend money on a park or a swimming pool if the locals want to get a bigger chunk of funding for education.

You may ask yourself “this sounds like what the federal government does to the states when it blackmails them for highway funding on issues like seat belts and blood alcohol level;” and you would be right. That is exactly what this alternative is. If the state is going to contribute more funding to local districts for education, the state deserves assurances that the local officials are spending the remaining tax revenue wisely. The last thing we want is the state to increase income taxes and sales taxes to help out the localities and the local officials fail to pass that savings on to the taxpayers.

Speaking of sales and income tax, we must tell our legislators that transferring the tax burden from those who can afford property, to those that cannot is totally unacceptable.

During the 2005 session the House actually passed a bill (HB 1512) that would have raised the state sales tax from 5% to 7%, and would have tacked on a 33%-surtax to personal and corporate income taxes – all in the name of property tax relief. Raising one tax to lower another is like robbing Peter to pay Paul; with Peter being someone who rents an apartment and is paying an ever-increasing tuition bill for college. Luckily the Senate had the good sense to kill this idea before it grew legs, but the fact that such a reckless bill made it through the House in the first place should give us pause to shake our heads and ask “what happened to the conservative fiscal policy that was once a bright spot in North Dakota even when times were tough?”

Property tax relief can only happen when local officials stop spending the money frivolously and worry about the important things like education and infrastructure. If you want lower taxes, you must demand your elected officials not throw your money around on pet projects.

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