The Idea That North Dakota Republicans Cut Taxes for the Oil Industry Is Fake News


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

For years now, since the policy passed during the 2015 legislative session, North Dakota Democrats and their mouthpieces have been braying about how Republicans cut taxes for the oil industry.

As is often the case, a lie repeated often enough begins to be perceived as the truth. So now thanks to a steady stream of partisan propaganda we get letters to the editor like this one with the headline, “ND property taxes rising because oil taxes were cut.”

This is utter bunk.

Oil companies have, since January of 2016 when the oil tax reforms passed by lawmakers took effect through February of this year, paid $591 million more in taxes than they would have under the old tax code.

Here’s a chart, based on data from the Office of the Tax Commissioner, which shows month-by-month collections under the new code versus what would have been:

This chart shows the difference in cumulative oil tax collections, old policy versus the new policy, since January:

Here is the truth: The North Dakota oil industry has, through February of this year, paid a more than half-billion dollar tax hike.

Now Democrats will argue that this is a tax cut because Republicans lowered the top tax rate the industry pays in exchange for eliminating a massive low-price exemption, but that is not what a tax cut is.

You cannot call it a tax cut when the net result is an increase in tax burdens.

You also cannot say that property taxes are going up because of oil tax cuts when, in the current biennium, oil companies have paid hundreds of millions more in taxes.

I’m not excusing Republicans from culpability when it comes to rising property taxes. They do deserve some blame for it. Their past policy of buying up property tax burdens wasn’t sustainable, as we’re finding out this legislative session, and now that the Senate has voted down a cap on property tax increases you can rest assured that your bill is almost certainly going up.

Republicans are going to have to own that (though, to be fair, it’s not at all clear that we’d have seen a different outcome with Democrats).

Oil tax policy, though, isn’t to blame.

The oil industry is just a convenient boogeyman North Dakota’s Democrats like to deploy in their talking points. Something which illustrates, yet again, just how out of step they are with the priorities of North Dakota voters.