There are a bunch of bills for tax relief before the 2015 legislative session, including two bills to take income tax rates down to zero. But according to the Fargo Forum, it would be better if the Legislature passed an amendment to the state constitution allowing for the state to redistribute excess revenues by just cutting checks to people.
The Forum is referring to HCR3013 – introduced by two very left-wing lawmakers in Rep. Marvin Nelson and Senator George Sinner – which would eliminate the state’s prohibition on gifting citizens money out of the state treasury.
An interesting wrinkle has been thrust into the discussion in the form of a House concurring resolution that calls for amending the North Dakota Constitution to allow some of the state’s wealth to go directly and uniformly to residents. The proposal doesn’t specify an amount, but does say any payments “must be uniform” and not based on “property holdings or value, earnings, assets, or age.”
Because House Concurrent Resolution 3013 was introduced by a pair of Democrats, Rep. Marvin Nelson of Rolla and Sen. George B. Sinner of Fargo, it probably has the prospects of a mayfly in June of passing, but it could help bring to the forefront a serious examination of legislative values. Republicans, after all, love to preach about how citizens are better equipped than politicians as to how to spend their money. If that really is a core belief, and if equality matters, the resolution offers a logical means to that end. Voters would have to approve.
But Republicans seem most intent on delivering some form of income tax breaks – or elimination – both for individuals and corporations. There’s no doubt reducing or eliminating the corporate income tax would be beneficial for business development; South Dakota has famously used its lack of an income tax to lure businesses from Minnesota. But income tax breaks benefit the wealthy the most. Cutting or eliminating income taxes would go directly to taxpayers, unlike property tax buy-downs, which can be reduced or negated by local governments.
I agree with the stated goal of giving relief directly to the people. I also agree that recent property tax buy-downs have been great for local governments, but not so great for property taxpayers (at least judging by the on-going angst in the state over the tax).
But is redistributing tax dollars the answer?
Here’s what HCR3013 would put in the state constitution:
This is a dangerous provision because a) it gives lawmakers the option of buying themselves votes with checks to the populace (as opposed to cutting taxes) and b) it doesn’t even allow that said checks be proportional to taxes paid.
Any checks sent out by lawmakers under this provision would have to be uniform, not taking into account the fact that some citizens pay a great deal more in taxes than others. That’s not tax relief. That’s wealth redistribution, and it’s wrong. The government shouldn’t be in the business of taking money from some and giving it to others. That might not be true if taxes were applied flatly to all citizens, but they are not.
Also, this would be an excuse for lawmakers to avoid cutting taxes. Citizens could be placated by a one-time check out of the treasury, even as they continue to pay higher-than-necessary tax rates which create surpluses.
If the state is taking in more money than it needs the proper action is to reduce taxes and fees in an appropriate manner, not a constitutional amendment giving lawmakers carte blanche to write checks to the people.