On Tuesday in North Dakota, the voters will get a chance to decide whether to dump the system of property taxes. Predictably, all the usual suspects are aligning to oppose it, but some may be a bit surprised at some who are opposing the measure. The public employees’ union naturally opposes the measure, but what might surprise you is that the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican governor oppose it as well. The state has been the beneficiary of vast new oil production, so unlike many of the other states around the country, where budgets are in trouble, North Dakota has a bit of a surplus. What shouldn’t surprise readers is the complete lack of imagination on the part of the establishment that cannot imagine doing without residents’ cash extracted under threat on the basis of the value of their property. Said the governor, Jack Dalrymple, according to NYTimes:
“It’s mind-boggling, really,” he said, in an interview, of the effects of such a ban. “We’d be changing everything, frankly.”
Absolutely! This would likely upset a large number of apple carts, but honestly, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I believe one’s property should be at least as inviolate as one’s right to keep and bear arms, or one’s right to free exercise of religion, or one’s right to free speech. If the voters of the state compel government to reorganize and ditch the property tax, it means the people of North Dakota will be more free. According to USA Today, some people can’t imagine ditching the tax:
“The property tax is the foundation of local government services,” said Connie Sprynczynatyk, executive director of the North Dakota League of Cities. “It’s the predictable source of revenue to pay for police and fire and other local services in the community where you live.”
Yes, predictably, the big-government types can’t imagine losing a nickel’s worth of revenue. Perhaps worse, the allegedly conservative Chamber of Commerce crowd simply can’t fathom it. Again from the NY Times piece:
“This is a plan without a plan,” said Andy Peterson, president and chairman of the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce, who acknowledged that property taxes have climbed in some parts of the state and that North Dakota’s political leaders need to tackle the issue. “But this solution is a little like giving a barber a razor-sharp butcher knife — and by the way, this barber is blind — and asking him or her to give you a haircut. You’ll get the job done, but you might be missing an ear or an eye.”
This is the stock complaint of opponents to the measure. Opponents argue that the measure would simply take away property taxes, but not replace it with anything. Rational people ought to ask: So what? There is a solution, and it is to cut spending. Cut spending until the expected expenditures are reduced to the absolute minimum necessary to function, and then figure out how to fund it. Part of the problem with the “predictability” of the the revenue stream from property taxes is that government simply grows and grows, but never diminishes.
The other problem is that opponents of this measure are doing what government types always do when they see their revenue stream threatened: They wave police, fire and emergency services around as the first thing to be cut. Voters in North Dakota, or anywhere else ought to ask what portion of the government’s expenditures actually go to those purposes. This tactic is the usual approach to argumentation on the subject, but what it is intended to conceal is all of the things not related to emergency services on which the governments at both the local and state level spend tax-payer money.
It was once that people spoke of emergency services, but over time, the word emergency has been replaced by the word “essential,” and therein lies the heart of the bait and switch. When most people think of “essential services,” they’re thinking about police, fire, EMS, and 9-1-1 service, but when a government bureaucrat speaks of what is “essential,” one should pin down that official for his or her definition of the term, otherwise, it might include all manner of things in which the government has no essential role.
The other part disguised in all of this is the education establishment’s role. Much of the money that goes to pay for local schools is derived from property tax revenue. If the property tax is abolished, it will send state lawmakers scrambling, and it will send local school officials looking for other ways to fund schools. Once again, it’s about throwing a monkey-wrench into the mechanisms of big government, because government wants and demands a “predictable revenue stream.” The problem is, it’s not government’s to demand.
The people of North Dakota have a monumental decision to make on Tuesday, and I hope they strike out in the name of liberty, and in the name of property rights. This country could not exist had we not established firm property rights, and since the advent of property taxes on a grand scale in the late 19th century, governments at all levels have grown to consume everything.
I think one of the people pushing this effort in the state summarizes it best, from the NY Times article:
“The same problem kept coming up,” said Charlene Nelson, a homemaker who became a leader of the effort to amend the Constitution, pointing to what she deems the underlying problem with the property tax. “It means all of us are renters — none of us are homeowners.”
Right! It’s time to fire the phony ‘landlords.’