Capitol Letters – Week 7
Crossover. Does the word bring to mind the basketball-handling skills of Tim Hardaway? Or country star Taylor Swift’s latest pop single? Not to us, it doesn’t. In the North Dakota Legislature, crossover –so named because Senate bills “cross over” to the House and vice versa (admittedly, we weren’t shooting for creativity) — is the unofficial halfway mark of the legislative session.
And we have a lot of work to do before we head out of town next week. Property taxes, proposed cuts to the oil extraction tax, and whether or not we fund important priorities like early childhood education are all in front us. We feature a preview of next week’s action below.
The right fights: Cutting property taxes for real, live people in North Dakota
Let’s start with the good news: There is agreement that tax relief should be a priority. And considering the widespread concern about rising property taxes, combined with the fact that an extreme measure to altogether eliminate property taxes received enough signatures to make it on the statewide ballot last June, you’d think there would be a singular focus on cutting property taxes.
You’d think, but you wouldn’t exactly be right.
Last week, the Republican majority in the Senate approved amendments to SB 2156 which would double the amount of permanent tax cuts going to corporations, taking the $25 million in corporate tax cuts identified in the executive budget up to $50 million. The amended bill also doubles proposed cuts to the individual income tax (up to $200 million from $100 million).That amounts to $250 million in permanent cuts to taxes that people aren’t necessarily in love with, but quite frankly don’t express a lot of concern about.
Let’s consider the corporate tax cuts in particular. A recent analysis by the strictly non-partisan Legislative Council confirmed that 82% of the corporate tax was paid by out-of-state corporations during the last tax year for which data is available. That’s worth spelling out: Eighty two percent of the tax has historically been paid by corporations headquartered in places like, oh, we’ll just throw out Bentonville, Arkansas.
Further, the Legislative Council also revealed that the $25 million we thought we provided in corporate tax cuts last session was more like $59 million. So if past is prologue, the proposed $50 million in corporate tax cuts this session might be more like $118 million.
All this made us think that our friends in the majority had lost focus on the importance of cutting property taxes, so earlier this week we respectfully requested that they get their collective legislative eye back on the property tax cut ball. To help, Senator Jim Dotzenrod, a former (and future?) chairman of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee, will lead an effort next week to re-direct the $250 million in permanent cuts to corporate and personal income taxes towards deeper property tax relief for North Dakotans.
That’s what we’re fighting for: Meaningful, sustainable property tax relief for North Dakota residents. People with names like “Joe” and “Mary.” People who, you know, have a heartbeat and breathe oxygen and stuff like that.
We value the contributions out-of-state corporations make to our economy, but when it comes to tax relief, our people should come first. A tip of the cap to Senator Dotzenrod. He’s fighting the right fights for North Dakota.
Head shaker of the week: Zeroing out funding for pre-kindergarten in North Dakota
They say word travels fast, but here in the state capitol sometimes word doesn’t get around the building all that well.
On Tuesday of this week, the Superintendent of Public Instruction held a press conference to highlight the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten education, citing national studies which irrefutably demonstrate pre-k’s long-term benefits to little tikes. This was welcome news to Dem-NPL legislators, who are long-standing advocates for moving forward with pre-k in North Dakota.
About 24 hours after the press conference, however, the Senate Appropriations Committee gave a “do not pass” recommendation to a bill with a modest $4.6 million appropriation which would have provided a series of $100,000 grants to schools to develop a pre-k program in our state.
For perspective, consider that states like Oklahoma and Georgia are moving towards offering preschool access to every single 4-year-old in those states. Even the Governor of Alabama (!), is calling for a 60% increase in the state’s preschool budget with the ultimate goal of guaranteeing preschool slots for kids in that state.
We treat our legislative colleagues with civility, that’s why we didn’t let out so much as a chortle when the Forum editorial board said the Senate Appropriations committee “vote suggests opponents of the bill could have used preschool education when they were kids.”
We will be fighting hard on the floor to tip over the committee’s recommendation. More on that and much more next week. Until then, 1) “like” us on Facebook; 2) have a great weekend; and 3) keep the faith.
Senator Mac Schneider Representative Kenton Onstad