I fully realize that describing the North Dakota Senate as "atrocious" is a harsh indictment. Nevertheless, I don’t know how else to describe a legislative body that doesn’t have even one member with the fortitude to stand and defend a bill that would give property owners an additional say in how much their property taxes can go up.
That’s right, the North Dakota Senate killed House Bill 1361 yesterday in a vote of 0-46. The bill came to be known as the "Property Tax Cap Bill" and would have placed a 3% cap on property tax increases– with some exceptions. Otherwise, anything exceeding 3% would have required a vote of the people.
The bill came to an impasse in conference committee, because the Senate didn’t want the House’s 3% cap back in the bill after they had removed it through amendment earlier in the legislative session. But the Senate conference committee finally relented and agreed to restore the 3% cap; only with the intent of killing the bill when it came back to the Senate floor. So much for that property tax "reform" they promised us in 2012.
It’s important to note that just yesterday the Senate passed Senate Bill 2206, which is the bill that ends the 12% property tax buy downs and has the state take over local social services.
Yet, in spite of this, as Senator Lonnie Laffen (R – District 43) carried HB 1361 to the floor, he proclaimed "I am not convinced that we have a property tax issue." He then quoted statistics in some areas of the state that showed increases over the last nine years of less than 3%. But does this ignore the fact that the state was involved in the property tax buy downs during this time? And besides that, why should a 3% cap bother Senator Laffen and others if the increases have not hit 3%?
To claim there is not a "property tax issue" is completely disingenuous. Dustin Gawrylow of the North Dakota Watchdog Network summed it up best:
"The legislature has spent over a billion dollars in the last 8 years to minimize what the State Senate now says is not a problem.
"Why was all that money spent if property tax increases are not a problem?"
Since Governor Doug Burgum has expressed his desire to get the state out of the property tax business, it is expected that he will sign SB 2206. That signature will mean significant property tax increases in the future. Increases that will undoubtedly exceed 3% in many areas of the state; perhaps even double digit increases for some.
The other justification for killing the bill was that this is a local control issue. This argument is horribly lacking as well. The state should be protecting the property rights of its citizens, not enabling local governments to assault them in the name of "local control". Passing HB 1361 would have given property owners an additional mechanism to guard against economic assault on their property.
By killing the bill, the Senate sent a crystal clear message that they’re not interested in protecting us. Even worse, they’re not interested in giving us anymore say in how much our property taxes will go up. No, all they’re interested in is getting out of the property tax business and maintaining the status quo.
Perhaps the silver lining in all of this will be that when property owners see those increases – especially the double digit ones – they may be more inclined to accept the cold hard truth… that property taxes are inherently broken, cannot be fixed, and need to be abolished.