Not once but twice during his campaign last year Governor Doug Burgum signed pledges to oppose increases in the state’s taxes and fees.
In March Burgum signed a pledge circulated by a group of NDGOP district leaders which stated that he would “oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes or user fees.”
One of Burgum’s fellow Republican candidates at the time, state Rep. Rick Becker, also signed the pledge. The other, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, declined saying he didn’t need to sign a pledge to keep his promise not to raise taxes.
In May Burgum also signed a pledge from Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by conservative activist Grover Norquist who has made pledges against tax hikes kind of famous.
“It is important that voters know unequivocally that as governor I will never raise taxes. I am proud to be the first candidate in this campaign to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” Burgum said in a press release at the time announcing his signature on the pledge. “We can solve our current budget challenges by reining in our spending and right-sizing state government.”
Burgum was clearly proud of these pledges when he signed them. He announced his participation to the public. His forceful message to voters was that he would not raise taxes.
So what then are we to make of Burgum’s support for instituting a tax on nursing home beds?
HB1130 was introduced by Office of Management and Budget (which, it’s worth noting, is currently under Burgum’s control) and would institute an assessment on people paying out-of-pocket for nursing home care to pay for people using nursing home beds through Medicaid.
In other words, this is a new tax. And OMB Director Pam Sharp told a legislative committee in testimony earlier this week that Burgum supports the legislation.
I reached out to Governor Burgum for a comment on this, and he blamed former Governor Jack Dalrymple for the origination of the idea, but said it was something worth considering.
“The long-term care provider assessment was proposed in Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s executive budget, and Gov. Burgum felt it deserved consideration in keeping with his philosophy that everything is on the table when it comes to balancing the budget,” Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki told me this afternoon.
So tax/fee increases are on the table now when it comes to balancing the budget? If that’s Burgum’s philosophy now, it certainly wasn’t back during his campaign.
Which isn’t to say that this is necessarily bad policy. It is worth noting that North Dakota is one of only two states (the other is Minnesota) where the law requires that private pay and Medicaid patients pay the same rates for nursing home care. And according to Nowatzki, some 40 states already levy similar assessments.
Still, there’s no question that this would be a new tax. The sort of thing Burgum said he’d oppose.
Which probably illustrates how foolish it is to sign those sort of pledges. When Burgum says today that everything should be on the table to balance the budget, he’s right, even if that position now exposes his campaign pledges as a bit opportunistic if not outright misleading.