Democrats emptied their rhetorical silos today on a proposal from Republicans to eliminate a looming oil tax trigger replacing it with a lower overall tax rate. They didn’t skimp on the hyperbole either, using words like “doomsday” and “nightmare.”
But what if I told you that a 2011 bill sponsored entirely by Democrats, including House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad who has been leading the charge against the Republican proposal in 2015, was almost identical to what Republicans are proposing today?
It’s true. First, here’s what Democrats are saying about the idea now.
“Such circumstances can reasonably be called the doomsday scenario for North Dakota,” Rep. Ron Guggisberg (D-Fargo) said in a press release issued by his state party.
“We understand that predictions change when it comes to a volatile commodity, but rather than being outlandish this nightmare scenario is based on best evidence,” added Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider in the release. “HB 1476 has been sold as adding predictability regarding oil revenues. This data shows that the bill is a multi-billion dollar crap shoot. It is an unacceptable risk for North Dakota that is being ramrodded through.”
During the floor debate yesterday House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad (D-Parshall) called the proposal a “dilemma.”
“In the long term, we’re going to lose over a billion dollars a biennium. We’re going to face a dilemma here, and I think this is the wrong way to go,” he said (video here). Onstad also joined Schneider in attacking the proposal in an op/ed column over the weekend.
Yet, despite all this mudslinging, Democrats were backing a nearly identical proposal during the 2011 legislative session.
The bill was HB1420. The sponsors? Dickinson Democrat Shirley Meyer (2011 was her last session) and none other than House Minority Leader Kenton Onstad.
“House Bill 1420, introduced by Rep. Shirley Meyer, D-Dickinson, proposes to streamline the state’s convoluted oil-tax system and reduce the 11.5 percent extraction tax to 9.5 percent,” the Minot Daily News reported on February 4, 2011. “Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, a co-sponsor on the bill, said companies are paying the 11.5 percent on new wells, but the average of all wells is 10.25 percent because of incentives in the law. HB 1420 would remove incentives and maintain that average.”
Granted 2011 was a long time ago, and people can certainly change their minds. Plus, that legislation didn’t go very far. It died a quick death in the House shortly after the Minot Daily published that article (2011 was near the peak of the boom and there wasn’t too much appetite for anything that could be perceived as easing “big oil’s” tax burdens).
But for Democrats in 2015 to attack as a “nightmare” and a “doomsday” proposal something they themselves were pushing back in 2011 seems more than a bit hypocritical to me.