Doug Burgum Should Renew His Push to Eliminate the Income Tax


Doug Burgum gets a briefing on the Cardinal IG plant Friday, May 27, 2016, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Fargo businessman Doug Burgum may have won the Republican primary vote in a landslide on Tuesday, probably making him our next governor given the inability by Democrats to field competitive candidates, but without a strong crossover vote from Democrats it probably wouldn’t have been a landslide at all.

He probably still would have won, but the outcome would have more closely resembled the deep divides among North Dakota Republicans.

When/if Burgum takes office in 2017 he’ll need a united Republican party behind him to be effective. Particularly Republican lawmakers who are a bit peeved with Burgum since his campaign painted them as “good old boy” spendthrifts.

Lawmakers told me that the Burgum campaign is already beginning its outreach to lawmakers behind the scenes, and that’s a good thing. But there’s more Burgum can do. Here are a couple of ideas.

Help Republican lawmakers get elected

There is no question that North Dakota Republicans will be holding on to their legislative majorities after this election cycle, but there are some races where Democrats could pick up seats.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]What Burgum needs to avoid is coming into a 2017 legislative session getting blamed for a Republican caucus that’s diminished because of his primary campaign rhetoric.[/mks_pullquote]

What Burgum needs to avoid is coming into a 2017 legislative session getting blamed for a Republican caucus that’s diminished because of his primary campaign rhetoric. He can avoid that by bringing some of the political star power his landslide upset primary victory earned him to local legislative races.

Burgum and his people should be identifying Republican lawmakers who are facing tough races and getting behind those campaigns both financially and by deploying Burgum himself as a campaign surrogate. It’s not like he’s going to be all that preoccupied campaigning against Democratic challenger Marvin Nelson.

It shouldn’t matter if these lawmakers supported Stenehjem or Burgum in the primary. The goal now is unity.

Burgum spent a great deal of time during his primary campaign telling us that he’s a dedicated Republican. This is his chance to prove it.

Propose a bold initiative conservatives can rally around

Unfortunately the primary campaign between Stenehjem and Burgum was very long on personal attacks and relatively short on policy specifics. Even now Burgum is declining to talk specifics on his planned initiatives, using the excuse that he has to win the general election first.

I guess I think policy ideas, more than anything else, are what should be talked about during political campaigns. But I’m old fashioned like that.

Burgum needs to place at the center of his general election campaign a bold idea that conservatives can rally behind, and I know what idea I’d like to see him tout.

Eliminate. The. Income. Tax.

I’m not proposing this completely out of left field. Burgum himself proposed, at the 2014 State of Technology Conference, eliminating the personal and corporate income tax to give North Dakota “a competitive advantage.”

North Dakota is in a much different place now in 2016 then we were in 2014 when the state’s coffers were flush and billion dollar revenue surpluses were making headlines. These days the headlines are full of news about revenue shortfalls, and the possibility of a special session to make budget cuts.

That’s hardly the environment conducive, politically speaking, to major tax reductions. But this sort of tax reform can be accomplished, even when the state is battling falling revenues.

If Burgum is committed to being the sort of visionary reformer he’s campaigned as being – and I think he is – then this is the sort of reform he ought to be putting on the table.

It would be a hard political fight, but also one with great potential benefits for the state. There is talk all the time of North Dakota’s need to diversify its commodity-based agriculture-and-energy economy, and I can’t think of a better way to start down that road than to have no income taxes.