This morning while sitting in for Mike Kapel on WDAY I invited Democrat Tax Comissioner candidate Jason Astrup on the program to talk about his proposal exempt Social Security benefits from the state income tax. He calls it ending the “senior citizen tax,” and it’s not a terrible idea, though pretty modest in scope.
According to Astrup’s numbers, exempting Social Security income would amount to about a $12 million tax break for about 43,000 North Dakotans. That’s about $280 in tax relief per year, or about $23 per month. Not really an enormous amount of money.
It seems to me that rather than creating more exemptions in the tax code, we ought to focus on broad tax relief for everyone. Like maybe just eliminating the state income tax (something Astrup says he opposes because of that oft-invoked metaphor about the “three-legged stool” of North Dakota taxes, a bit of triangulation North Dakota politicians trot out every time they want to oppose a certain flavor of tax reform).
What surprised me was when Astrup got a little testy about property taxes. I had asked Astrup what others he saw as significant in his campaign. “Property taxes is the big issue,” he told me, also saying that he has a property tax plan he’ll be rolling out at a later date.
I asked him what it was about property tax policy that he found objectionable, and he said the 2013 Legislature upset him when they made property tax relief temporary.
That’s, a little odd, mostly because the bulk of the Legislature’s property tax efforts were permanent. I pointed out that only $200 million of the Legislature’s property tax buy-down was temporary, and that over $660 million in buydown for school district tax mills was a permanent obligation for the state, Astrup didn’t seem to understand that this was the case.
“What the Legislature’s done in the past has only been good for two years,” Astrup told me. When I pointed out that there was $200 million in property tax buy downs for two years, and then over $660 million as a permanent buy down of school property tax mills, Astrup said, “We need to focus on the fact that it was not permanent.”
Later in the interview Astrup told me that the Legislature’s handling of the property tax issue was the reason he decided to run for Tax Commissioner, but I have to wonder just how close Mr. Astrup has been following the property tax issue when he doesn’t understand that the bulk of what was done on the issue by legislators last year is permanent policy.
Or maybe he does understand and is obfuscating that fact for the sake of his campaign.
And I say that not as a supporter of the state’s recent property tax policies – I have been outspoken in my dislike of Governor Dalrymple and the Legislature’s approach to property taxes which do little more than shift local spending to the state budget – but as someone mystified by a Tax Commissioner candidate who doesn’t seem to understand our current tax policy.
I also interviewed our current Tax Commissioner, Republican Ryan Rauschenberger, who pointed out that North Dakota Senior citizens already get far more tax relief than what Astrup is proposing through the Homestead Tax Credit and also suggested that any new tax cuts should be broad in their impact. His audio follows Astrup’s above.