Legislators: Conservation Measure Would Make Tax Relief Hard

Last week I wrote about a rift among Republican lawmakers over what flavor of tax relief North Dakotans should get in the upcoming legislative session. One faction wants to be rid of the income tax, or at the very least implement further reductions in state income tax rate. The other faction wants to keep the focus on property taxes (and within that faction are two smaller factions, one wanting to eliminate the property tax and the other wanting to continue the state’s property tax buy-downs).

But here’s some common ground for agreement: Legislators say that a ballot measure diverting oil tax revenues into a conservation fund – hundreds of millions of dollars worth of revenue per biennium – might derail any serious tax reductions. I wrote about it at Watchdog today:

Both Maragos and Louser agree, however, that Measure 5 on the November ballot could make debating tax relief moot.

That measure —  dubbed the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment by supporters — would create a fund that receives 5 percent of oil extraction tax revenue. The money would be used for conservation projects. Based on the most recent Office of Management and Budget estimates for tax revenue in the state, the amendment would divert $259 million in the 2015-2017 biennium.

Before those estimates were released, supporters of the measure claimed that it would accumulate $150 million per biennium.

“The voters are going to have a major impact on what we do with some of these ballot measures,” Maragos told Watchdog.

“The conservation fund could really impact our ability to change taxes,” Louser added during the joint interview.

The conservation measure will be Measure 5 on the November ballot. If passed, it would divert oil tax revenues for the next 25 years with a mandate that 75 percent of those funds be spent.

Something to keep in mind when you consider what you might like lawmakers to do on taxes next year.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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