The Truth About Free Tuition

Minot Daily News – April 8th, 2007

Sen. Tony Grindberg deserves to be commended for having the courage, as a Republican, to propose a bold and sweeping plan to address the issue of out-migration. Unfortunately, the perspective from which he views the issue is flawed. From my discussions with him regarding the “North Dakota Promise” and reading his remarks on the Business Congress, it seems he views out-migration as a causal problem and not the symptom effect of other issues – namely business tax climate and personal tax burden.

Like many ideas that have attempted to address out-migration in recent years, the Promise Plan accepts the premise that the only way to keep young people in the state is through handouts and new programs – in simple terms “free stuff.” This is a flawed premise, and not at all what young people are asking for.

Young people leave this state because, while they do get a relatively inexpensive education compared to other states, they still finish school with massive amounts of debt and need to find good-paying jobs to make a living and pay the bills. When the average debt load of a college graduate is a little over $23,000, the choice is to stick around and earn less, or go somewhere to earn more.

Beyond the salary issues, graduates want to be able to actually use the education they paid $23,000 for and be in a career field that the taxpayers of North Dakota subsidized them to be educated in. The state lacks a proper economic mix of jobs to match graduates education and skill set. If you can’t work in the field of your choice, many times you must leave the state to do so.

Certainly, there is a certain percentage of young people that just want to get out, and there is nothing that will stop them.

Among the causes of out-migration is that North Dakota ranks 33rd in terms of Business Friendly Tax Policy while our neighbors in Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota all rank in the Top 10. It does not take an economist or accountant to show that these numbers just don’t add up to positive things for the state of North Dakota.

If legislators are truly concerned about this issue they will support measures that will allow more young North Dakotans to be able to stay in the state by creating their own jobs. The Legislature should seriously consider eliminating both the individual income tax in the state of North Dakota. This will allow us to be more competitive with South Dakota which long ago abolished income taxes and has seen population growth and tax revenue growth via the sales tax ever since.

The goal of the state of North Dakota should be to create ways for more of its people to create jobs for themselves and other North Dakotans. Tuition handouts and more government programs that try to manipulate the free market will not make that happen.

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