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Port: Property taxes will be thorn in GOP’s side

By Staff | Apr 28, 2017

The truth is the public doesn’t really care about 90 percent of the drama in politics.

It’s not something people who make a living from politics like to admit. It’s not something those of us who subsist on writing and talking about politics are comfortable with. We all like to think that that momentous events hinge on each new scandal and talking point. We like to think that we write things and say things and the world changes around us accordingly.

The truth is most politics is pablum. Entertaining, sure, but something akin to a soap opera only the actors aren’t so good looking. Or talented.

That’s why most incumbents win re-election, and most elections change very little.

There is 10 percent, though, that matters.

In North Dakota, in 2018, you can plan on property taxes being a part of that 10 percent.

The Republican majority set a trap for themselves when they began buying down property taxes. Hiding those burdens in state revenues was an easy thing to do when we had big surpluses.

Now the surpluses are gone, there’s no money to extend the 12 percent property tax buy down into the coming biennium, and absent that influx of state cash local governments are probably going to raise taxes.

That 12 percent buy down costs the state about $270 million. Lawmakers are almost certainly going to reach an agreement to take over social service programs from the counties which are currently being funded by property taxes.

That will lift about $160 million in property tax burdens, but it will leave a roughly $110 million gap. Absent some other action by the Legislature it will almost certainly be made up in the form of tax hikes.

If lawmakers don’t fill that gap with another buy down, or some other maneuver, it’s going to be part of the 10 percent.

Democrats are going to accuse Republicans of fiscal mismanagement. They’re already doing it.

The claim has validity.

Republicans used unsustainable boom-era revenues to grow on-going spending.

Dumb move, but let’s face it, most of the spending cuts are part of the 90 percent. They make headlines but they really don’t have much impact on the day-to- day lives of voters.

Property taxes, though. They matter.

The current property tax buy down lasts through 2017, and it has been showing up on those statements we all get in our mailboxes as a line item. But in 2018 that line item disappears, which means for most of us a hike in our bill.

You know what else happens in 2018? We vote.

It won’t matter if you don’t get your property tax statement until after election day. Local leaders, not to mention the Democrats, are going to make sure everyone knows there’s tax hikes coming.

They’ll make sure everyone knows whose fault it is, too.

Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.

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