In June of 2012, North Dakota voters will have the opportunity to vote on a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would eliminate all property taxes. If passed, the initiative would make North Dakota the only state in the nation to completely abandon this cornerstone of local government finance.
Although property taxes are somewhat regressive, they are a vitally important revenue source, and serve as an important complement to state income taxes by ensuring that families with large quantities of property wealth pay more than those without such reserves. The initiative’s sponsors, Empower the Taxpayer (E.T.), gloss over these realities with simplistic arguments that “government has become too big,” and “property taxes penalize the homeowner.”
E.T. also contends that the state is empowered only to provide for the general welfare, and property taxes are currently being used to somehow provide kickbacks to “special interest” groups, three of which they identify as most egregious being the higher education system, state employees, and the health and human services system.
Since when did the public interest become a special interest?
E.T., we should mention, is spearheaded by Robert Hale, a successful lawyer in Minot, ND, who is also a builder and developer who, one can imagine, would benefit financially if he could legally avoid paying property taxes.
One final note: while E.T. calls for property tax elimination to be financed through deep cuts in public services, they also float local sales taxes as a more “democratic and fair” alternative to the property tax, never mind that they are a starkly regressive kind of tax, impacting the poor far more heavily than any other group.
Regressive taxes, however, and massive service cuts are what we should probably expect from this organization which, as it happens, chooses that monocle-wearing millionaire from the Monopoly game, Rich Uncle Pennybags, for its logo.