A Failed First Half At The North Dakota Legislature

If a democrat governor would have proposed a 24% increase in spending as Governor John Hoeven did, Republicans would be all over the tax and spend fiscal policy. But somewhere along the line something strange happened. The Republican legislature decided to make Hoeven look conservative by going even further on spending. As of crossover, the legislature had managed to pass enough new spending to turn that surplus into a potential deficit if each chamber chose to pass the other’s approved legislation.

Even more ludicrous is the fact that this same Republican controlled legislature has yet to pass meaningful tax relief for its citizens. Sure, the House has passed so-called “property tax relief” which is nothing more than an income tax redistribution scheme that most certainly will be challenged on its constitutionality. It does not extend relief to the 30% of North Dakotans who do not own property. It does allows property owners who do not pay income tax in North Dakota to be granted property tax relief using funds generated by those who do pay income tax in the state. Finally, and worse of all, to sustain the state funded property tax relief, the income tax will probably be raised at some point.

In summary, the “property tax relief” package the governor is pushing, and the legislature is so eager to pass, is nothing more than a subsidy to those who can afford property on the backs of those who do not or can not. Ironically, the best tax plan to address the property tax issue was a Democrat tax credit that included those who do not own property, but contributed to the surplus, in the relief (SB 2291).

But when it came to meaningful tax relief that will not end up costing the taxpayers more a few cycles from now, our elected representatives have failed miserably. A Republican majority, holding 61 of 94 seats in the State House, failed to achieve a constitutional majority to pass a meager 20-basis-point income tax rate reduction (HB 1170).

Not only has the Republican majority failed to pass real tax relief; it even blocked the repeal of age discrimination on the tax exempt status of retired military personnel pay (HB 1418). Republicans that voted against this tax cut for military vets claim it was because it did not go far enough. If that really is the case, this group of naïve elected officials chose to “forsake the good, for the perfect.” Good policy should be approved or simply amended to make it better, not opposed because it does not do enough.

The Republican majority also made a policy statement on how it views college graduates. By voting against HB 1518, they stated to the public that interest generated from student debt is nothing more than just another revenue stream – just like any other tax. The bill would have reinvested interest from student loans, in college scholarship funds. It is unfortunate that Republicans have decided that taxing the young people of this state is more important than making it easier for them to afford to actually stay here.

As a conservative, this session has been a total disappointment. The failure to enact real tax relief for all taxpayers, the refusal to cut taxes for military vets, and the immoral government policy of profiting from the debt of its own citizens all lead to a questioning of what the Republican label even means at this point. And to top it all off, the legislative majority leadership even wrote an editorial bragging about “increased funding at record levels across the board.”

As Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana stated of the national party in the Spring of 2006: It’s one thing to drift off course…It’s quite another thing to continue that course when half the crew and passengers are pointing out that nothing looks familiar … not to mention the tens of millions of Americans lining the shoreline screaming, “You’re going the wrong way!” In a word, we’re no longer adrift. We might’ve been when we started but now “off course” is the accepted course.”

We will see if legislators “right the ship” on their own here in North Dakota in the next two months, or if that task will be left to the voters in November 2008.

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