Wednesday, June 13, 2012

North Dakota Residents Like Big Government

North Dakota Residents Like Big Government: at least that is the conclusion that can be drawn from Tuesday's election.  There was a ballot initiative - Measure 2 - which would have banned all property taxes in the state.  It would have made North Dakota the only state to have no property taxes.

It didn't surprise me that the measure failed.  What did surprise me is by how much it lost.  Less than one quarter of the people voting actually voted to support the measure.  Over three quarters said no to the measure and yes to big government.  You can see the results here.

According to this article, eliminating the property tax in North Dakota would have meant a cut of 23% from the state and local taxes.  North Dakota has somewhat high property taxes.  It also has state income taxes and a sales tax.  Of course, it has the thousands of other taxes that other states have like gas taxes, car registration fees, etc.

North Dakota has seen a substantial increase in tax collections recently, due to the oil boom in the western part of the state.  It is also one of the most solvent states, with low unemployment.  There was never much of a property boom there during the housing bubble that so many other areas in the U.S. had.  This means that there also wasn't a big bust there, so the budget stayed balanced with no big cuts being necessary, as tax collections did not dry up for the state government.

This would have been the perfect time to eliminate the property taxes.  With the big boom from the oil discoveries, the residents there could have done away with all property taxes and still not have had to cut much from the budget.

According to this story, the opponents of the measure (the advocates of big government) outspent those who favored abolishing the tax almost $600,000 to $22,000.  It should be no surprise that the National Education Association made a significant contribution against the measure.

I can just imagine the commercials being run and the things being said on television.  They were probably telling people that if the measure passed that firefighters wouldn't have the funding to show up to houses burning down.  The police wouldn't be able to respond to 911 calls.  The athletic and arts programs would be shut down in the public schools.  Or worse, the schools would have to shut down.  While I might be exaggerating a little on those comments, they are probably not too far off.

I suppose there is one libertarian argument against the measure and that is that it takes away local control, just as someone was cited in this article.  However, I doubt many people voted against the measure thinking this way.  Also, I would have had no trouble voting for the measure because it wasn't dictating any kind of replacement tax.  It would really be up to local governments to find other ways to tax if they chose to do so.  Also, this local argument doesn't fly when it is usually the state governments that mandate government education be provided.

It really is shocking that less than one quarter voted to support this measure.  This is in a supposedly red state.  It just shows that Republicans love big government too.

In Massachusetts, which is thought of as a liberal high-tax state, the two ballot initiatives there to end the state income tax received higher percentages than this North Dakota initiative.  In fact, the first drive to end the state income tax in Massachusetts actually came close to winning.

I would think it would be harder to repeal a state income tax than property taxes.  In most states, half the residents pay little to no state income taxes, so it is hard to make the case for them.  For property taxes, the case should be a little easier.  I know that renters won't directly benefit immediately, but it should be easy enough to explain that if all landlords have their expenses reduced significantly, it will probably mean lower rents.  While cost does not automatically dictate price, it can and does affect it.

If the vote in North Dakota is at all representative of the country, then I guess most Americans are still not ready to give up their slave status to the state.  This was a perfect opportunity where there was no voting for the lesser of two evils.  It was an up or down vote and North Dakota residents decided overwhelmingly that they like their big government.

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