Democrat-Backed Measure to Raise Oil Taxes Gets Chilly Reception Even From Left Wing Allies

Crews work at an oil well site near Williston, N.D., on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

About a week ago North Dakota Democrats – specifically current state Senator Merrill Piepkorn and former state Rep. Ed Gruchalla – announced a ballot measure effort to raise North Dakota’s oil tax.

Democrats have long been unhappy with reforms passed in 2015 which eliminated a massive exemption from the extraction tax triggered by low prices and also lowered the combined extraction and production taxes to a flat, combined 10 percent (the previous top rate was 11.5 percent). Even though the net result of these changes has been $1 billion in additional revenues since January 2016 over what would have been collected under the old code, Democrats want the top rate to go back to 11.5 percent.

“We have been briefed but have no position,” Nick Archuleta, president of the organization, told me in an emailed statement. He also threw some cold water on the idea. “At this point nothing has been filed. Frankly, there’s no guarantee this will ever make it to the ballot,” he said.

But I’m told that, privately, the organizers behind the measure are frustrated there isn’t more enthusiasm for it. I’m told specifically that typical left wing allies like North Dakota United (the combined teacher and public worker unions) and the North Dakota Farmer’s Union have declined to support.

I’ve checked in with both of those organizations, and so far that’s the case.

“A member brought it up from the floor” during the NDFU state convention communications manager Pam Musland told me by telephone today. She said the member wanted to “explore being part of a coalition” supporting the ballot measure but that ultimately “members voted that down.”

Musland said the NDFU is not supporting the measure.

As for North Dakota United, “We have been briefed but have no position,” Nick Archuleta, president of the organization, told me in an emailed statement. He also threw some cold water on the idea. “At this point nothing has been filed. Frankly, there’s no guarantee this will ever make it to the ballot,” he said.

Again, Democrats and their various media surrogates have invested a lot of time into bad mouthing these tax reforms as some sort of a hand out to “big oil.” But if the Dems can’t rely on groups like ND United or the Farmer’s Union to help collect signatures and articulate an argument for why the oil taxes need to go up they aren’t going to get very far.

Heck, announcing this sort of a major ballot initiative without first being sure of a strong coalition to support it seems like hubris to me.

Maybe the Democrats are spending too much time believing their own talking points.

I reached out to Piepkorn for comment, but he didn’t return my phone calls or immediately respond to an email.

UPDATE: This post originally stated that the ballot measure had been brought up on the floor of a NDFU policy meeting. It was actually at the state convention. I’ve edited the post to reflect that change.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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