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Published March 26, 2012, 08:20 AM

Consider Measure 2's benefits

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — In response to Dale Thorenson’s “Measure 2 is a wrong move” (Agweek, March 12). I note that Thorenson was hired by the Washington, D.C., lobbying group Gordley Associates directly after leaving the offices of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. “Keep It Local” brings out the big guns.

By: Dennis Stillings, Agweek

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — In response to Dale Thorenson’s “Measure 2 is a wrong move” (Agweek, March 12). I note that Thorenson was hired by the Washington, D.C. lobbying group Gordley Associates directly after leaving the offices of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. “Keep It Local” brings out the big guns.

It was well for Thorenson to question the wisdom of “wading into the debate regarding Measure 2.”

He rightly realizes that doing so is indeed a matter of wisdom. Would that he had made use of it.

The old argument that Measure 2 proponents filed a lawsuit to keep officials from expressing their opinions is so weak that most anti-Measure 2 activists have stopped using it — and for good reason.

First of all, according to the Corrupt Practices Act, government officials and those representing government-supported entities are not permitted to take public positions pro or con on an initiated measure. Why? Because unlike a bill arising out of the Legislature, an initiated measure arises from the people themselves. Without legal restrictions, the government and government-subsidized interests could — and do — fight the people directly using the people’s own tax money and virtually unlimited media access. In short, tyranny.

Such practices are characteristic of monarchies but not, I would hope, characteristic of North Dakota government.

Being informed

I hate to throw cold water on Thorenson’s happy notion that our publicly elected officials are “those most knowledgeable about the measure’s negative effects.” They certainly are not. They may have a pop-gun arsenal of imagined negative effects, but they certainly could be relieved of most, if not all, of these bugaboos once they actually read Measure 2 and understand it.

Rare is the case where a government official or opponent of Measure 2 actually has read Measure 2.

Most rely instead on the retailed “information” of the special interests and their distorted talking points. If any significant number of our publicly elected officials has gone so far as to read the information readily available on the Empower the Taxpayer website, I honestly would be shocked. There is also the comprehensive volume Property Tax Revolution — available from the ETT website — which goes into considerable detail. This volume is perhaps the first book in this state to be written in support of an initiated measure.

Thorenson seems to drip with contempt for North Dakotans. He thinks Measure 2 is a “joke.” He speculates that “it has to be the most ill-conceived piece of legalese ever to be put before the voters of North Dakota.”

He thinks the Legislature has far more important things to do than to deal with the people’s property tax issues. He worries about the legislature’s workload — that it “has more than enough on its plate.” Don’t we all? Clearly, Thorenson thinks the issues involving property tax are trivial. Do you, the reader, think so?

The fact is that Measure 2 was drafted by top North Dakota lawyers (sorry they’re from North Dakota, Thorenson), it was vetted and critiqued by the North Dakota Legislative Council (again, our apologies, Thorenson).

Maybe Washington, D.C., lawyers would have been better — they did such a good job with Obamacare and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Furthermore, the initiated measure petition was signed by 28,000 of us benighted North Dakotans. We are so ashamed of ourselves, Thorenson.

After a confusing story about his property and mineral rights, Thorenson seizes on the desperate issue of whether apartment owners, having been relieved of property taxes, would lower their rents. The answer is, of course, probably not. Removing property tax would give landlords a more competitive margin and incentives for maintaining and improving properties. It also is likely that more apartment buildings would be built, should government regulations permit it, thus lowering the rents.

Covering lost revenue

Measure 2 does not rely on oil to cover lost revenue. There are about 26 to 30 other revenue sources available.

The Beacon Hill Institute study (available online at EmpowertheTaxpayer.com) of the economic effects of Measure 2 indicate that both new jobs and the resultant tax revenues may well cover the nut after a couple of years.

BHI does economic forecasts for a number of government agencies, including some in North Dakota. Remember, dear reader that, in any case, all the money comes out of one pocket: yours. Measure 2 simply states that all government-mandated obligations must be covered first; then, what is leftover is parceled out to special interests. This is the big angry bee in the bonnet of the special interest opponents of Measure 2.

Finally, Thorenson drags out the worst argument of all: Let’s not get rid of property taxes for everyone because 16.7 percent of property (does that include railroad property?) is owned by out-of-staters who do not pay property tax. That is what is called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.”

Furthermore, it often is the case that Wal-Marts and many other new businesses are tax-exempt for varying periods. In many communities, 30 to 50 percent of the property at any one time is tax-exempt because of abatements, renaissance zones, and economic development. Last I heard, the total value of tax-exempt property in Fargo, N.D., was $1.7 billion, meaning that the rest of the property owners were picking up a $31 million tab to cover that lost revenue. Whatever is Thoreson talking about?

Yes, indeed, there will be far-reaching effects if you vote for Measure 2: You will own your home instead of paying eternal rent to the government, you can improve your property without penalty, transparency in government spending will be achieved, local obligations will be “fully and properly funded” and crony-capitalist, vote-buying special-interest spending will be drastically curtailed.

Editor’s Note: Stillings is from Valley City, N.D.

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