Bold: North Dakota Considering Property Tax Ban

Kate Hicks
Posted: Jun 12, 2012 8:03 AM

Sick of paying taxes on your home? Well, move to North Dakota and you might not have to anymore. Thanks to a massive grassroots effort, the state has a measure on the ballot today to determine the fate of the property tax.

North Dakota voters will decide Tuesday on the ultimate tax revolt: abolishing the property tax altogether. A citizen-led petition drive has put the daring, all-or-nothing proposal before the voters in a state flush with tax revenue, jobs and prosperity generated by an oil boom.

If the property tax is eliminated, it would be the first time since 1980 — when oil-rich Alaska got rid of its income tax — that a state has discontinued a major tax, reports the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan research group. North Dakota would become the only state not to have a property tax, a levy the state has had since before it joined the union in 1889.

"The oil boom makes it easier to get rid of the tax, but we started this before the oil boom took off," said Charlene Nelson, chairman of Empower The Taxpayer, which is leading the tax repeal effort. "Any state would benefit from this same thing."

Interestingly, however, the measure has bipartisan opposition, with unions joining forces with the Chamber of Commerce and state politicians of every stripe against the ban. They argue that a total ban on the property tax will leave the state high and dry on hundreds of millions of revenue that even North Dakota's budget surplus can't cover.

Some big unanswered questions, the opponents say, include precisely how lawmakers would make up some $812 million in annual property tax revenue; what effect the change would have on hundreds of other state laws and regulations that allude to the more than century-old property tax; and what decisions would be left for North Dakota’s cities, counties and other governing boards if, say, they wanted to build a new school, hire more police, open a new park.

The measure doesn't poll well, and its high-profile opposition -- which includes the state's governor, a Republican -- have vastly outraised the plucky anti-property tax movement. Regardless, even those who don't want the ban agree that something must be done to alleviate the burden posed by property taxes. The state will likely tackle the issue in the coming months, albeit from a more moderate approach.