In large part, the 2019 North Dakota Legislature isn’t in favor of significantly reducing the size of government and cutting — or even eliminating — certain taxes. In fact, both the House and Senate passed bills out of their chambers that have the potential to raise property taxes. The House rejected a proposal to reform property taxes by capping increases at 3%— anything more would have required a vote of the people. The House also killed a bill that would have meant significant property tax relief by forcing the state to better meet their constitutional obligations regarding K-12 education. There were also multiple proposals that would have reduced or eliminated income taxes— but they failed too. The one that passed proposes using the earnings from the Legacy Fund to eventually replace the income tax.
All of these things — and probably more — were done in spite of the fact that the state has enough revenue to eliminate income taxes and property taxes— and still be spending half a billion dollars more than our neighbors in South Dakota. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that we’d still be #4 in the nation in state and local revenue per capita. This was proven by Rep. Rick Becker (R – District 7) in a recent floor debate that’s well worth your time to watch.
Yet, in spite of the fact that the state is awash in money, it seems some lawmakers have no problem proposing increases. For example, on Tuesday the House is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 2244. This bill passed the Senate on a vote of 40-6 early last month. It proposes a variety of increases to driver’s license fees, but the big ones are for Class D non-commercial and commercial, which the bill proposes raising from $15 to $30.
The proposed increases aren’t surprising. We warned you in August of 2018 that this as coming.
What is the justification for the bill? Here’s a few examples that were shared by Senator Michael Dwyer (R – District 47) when he carried the bill to the floor of the Senate:
- Fees haven’t been raised since 1987.
- The driver’s license division takes in $10 million a biennium, but its costs are $15 million.
- Roads and bridges are in need of repair across the state and funds are currently funneled away from them to make up for the $5 million shortfall.
Apparently these kinds of arguments were enough to convince the House Transportation Committee to support the bill as well. They’ve given it a 9-3 Do Pass recommendation.
Aside from the fact that the state has plenty of existing resources to draw from, without raising fees, we also shouldn’t forget the unconstitutional ethanol subsidies the Legislature has doled out over the years. We’ve published articles about this a number of times. And isn’t it interesting that those subsidies have been to the tune of about $4.7 million a biennium— nearly the identical amount they’re claiming the driver’s license division is short. And just where have these dollars come from? The Highway Tax Distribution Fund.
When SB 2244 comes up for a vote on Tuesday, the House should reject it. Enough is enough already. The North Dakota Legislature needs to get their fiscal house in order. And that shouldn’t involve bleeding its citizens for more when there’s more than enough already.
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