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Berginski: Astrup plan not tax relief

By Staff | Sep 12, 2014

The N.D. State Tax Commissioner race actually has a little bit of excitement this year, with revelations that current state commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger has alcohol problems. Democratic challenger and West Fargo attorney Jason Astrup could’ve easily won the race by now had he vocally called on Rauschenberger to resign and got enough people behind him to support it.

Astrup could’ve also won the race easily if his tax plan was little more than superficial tax relief.

Astrup’s plan would eliminate all but one tax bracket. For single filers, the first $40,000 of income would be exempt from taxation, for married couples the first $80,000. Combined with federal taxes, it’s the first $50,000 for singles and $100,000 for married couples. On the surface it seems like tax relief, but then it goes on. Income over these amounts would be taxed at 2.52 percent.

Astrup’s plan would also set property tax rates at 12 percent, and it would exempt properties worth less than $75,000 from property taxes. All told, it’s an over $1.1 billion tax cut, one that 53 percent of North Dakotans can benefit from.

But a cut in one tax here or another tax there doesn’t make for relief. Those lost funds would have to be recouped somehow. Does this mean that sales taxes, both retail and restaurant, would go up? Or how about the so-called “sin taxes” (taxes on alcohol, tobacco, etc.)? Wouldn’t those have to go up too? I’ve got a fridge at home with milk and some really good microbrew stouts in it. I don’t like the idea that I’d have to pay a bunch more to get my vitamins A, B12, D, and some antioxidants, or go to another state with lower sales taxes just to buy groceries. (For the record, I am not an alcoholic trying to justify what’s in my fridge. Compared to lagers, which is a popular beer style, a lot of stouts have fewer calories when consumed in moderation.) In my other job, I want people to go out to eat, drink, spend money. They stimulate the economy, which in turn allows me to stimulate the economy. I wouldn’t want that to stop because people feel burdened by taxes.

The plan also brings up what conservatives love to criticize Democrats and liberals about: “class warfare”. It doesn’t matter whether someone owns a successful business or farming operation, they make over the amounts in the third paragraph, BAM! Taxed. Their properties worth more than $75,001? BAM! Taxed. It isn’t exactly relief for these people when they’re the ones shouldering the burden.

If we’re going to talk about tax relief, our politicians need to come up with plans that benefit 100 percent of North Dakotans. Plans that sound great throughout, and not just on the surface.

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