We recently published an article expressing our disappointment over the 2019 North Dakota Legislature’s record on taxes. Included in that article was their move to raise driver’s license fees by passing Senate Bill 2244. As a matter of percentage, the proposed increase wasn’t small either. In fact, it would double commercial and noncommercial licenses from $15 to $30.
The justification for SB 2244 was that there hasn’t been an increase in fees since 1987 and that the department was short about $5 million— which has to be made up by drawing from the Highway Tax Distribution Fund. Interestingly enough, just nine days after the House passed the bill, Governor Doug Burgum vetoed it.
Burgum’s veto actually made sense when we consider his oft-spoken desire to “reinvent” government. The Governor has asked that agencies make cuts, innovate, and change the way they do business. His veto showed that he was serious about it in relation to this issue.
In a letter to his Lieutenant Governor, Brent Sanford — who also happens to be President of the Senate — Governor Burgum wrote:
“Senate Bill 2244 doubles the fees for noncommercial and commercial driver’s licenses, impacting more than 163,000 North Dakotans every biennium. The additional $5.5 million collected by this bill comes directly out of the pockets of state citizens and imposes an unnecessary burden on our residents.” (Emphasis Added)
Burgum is absolutely correct. These increases are indeed unnecessary. Not only does the state have the funds in place to take care of the apparent shortfall, but we shouldn’t forget that they’ve been robbing the same fund to subsidize the ethanol industry at roughly the same amount they now say they’re short. In addition to this, Governor Burgum points out that:
“With technology advancements and new methods of service delivery, the transactional cost of providing driver’s licenses can be reduced.
“Before any fee increase is adopted, especially a fee that doubles the price of a monopolized service essential to nearly all North Dakotans, further study is warranted.”
The unfortunate aspect of this situation is that SB 2244 passed by such wide margins in both the Senate and House that it’s likely Governor Burgum’s veto can be overridden. In fact, it seems that there’s a movement in both chambers to shore up support in hopes of doing just that.
The Forum’s John Hageman reported last Friday that Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R – District 37) was expecting the Senate to attempt their share of the override this week. And I’m told that on the House side a movement is in place to shore up the necessary votes so that they can complete it.
If you’re opposed to doubling these fees, then now is the time for you to contact your legislators and tell them to uphold the Governor’s veto.
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