UPDATE: Burgum Says He Supports Oil Tax Reform

doug burgum

Earlier today I wrote a post noting that Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum had, in an interview with a left-wing talk radio show, sided with Democrats on the controversial oil tax reform passed by the legislature last year.

As I noted, that would be a tough position to take given that every single Republican in the Legislature (with the exception of Senator Tim Flakoll of Fargo) voted for the reform. Democrats opposed the reform – which replaced a massive tax exemption triggered by low oil prices with a minor reduction in the state’s extraction tax rate – but Republicans supported it in a big, big way.

Burgum emailed me about the post this evening, objecting to my characterization of his position. “I support the work of the 2015 North Dakota Republican-led Legislature on last year’s oil tax reforms,” he told me in an email.

He said that if he’d been governor he would have signed HB1476 (the legislation reforming the tax) into law. And while there was no disagreement between Republicans and Demcorats over removing the trigger exemption, Burgum said he also supports lowering the rate.

“I support the rate reduction,” Burgum told me. “The rate reduction was reached as a healthy compromise between stakeholders, and in the long run, it provides more certainty both for state budgets and for the energy industry. Having a predictable and stable tax policy allows the private sector to make better long-term capital commitments, and this is especially important for the oil industry, which requires substantial capital and risk-taking.”

That seems to be at odds with what I heard in the radio interview which took place on the Joel Heitkamp Show on Friday (with Perry Miller guest hosting).

You can listen to the audio here (the pertinent portion starts at about the 22:00 minute mark). Here’s a transcript of the pertinent exchange:

MILLER: I think the argument on the Democrat aside was you just take the trigger away and leave the tax where it is because it’s costing the state like around $700,000 per day.

BURGUM: And we could use that right now.

MILLER: Well I think we could and I would argue that a lot of times you lower taxes to spur development or to you know save jobs. I don’t think it’s saved any jobs. The whole oil problem is driven by the price of oil. That’s my opinion.

BURGUM: Yes, yup.

From there the interview moves on to other energy-related issues.

The exchange above sure sounds to me like Burgum agreeing with Miller that the rate shouldn’t have been lowered. At the very least, it seems Burgum refrained from disagreeing with the host on a hotly contested bit of tax/energy policy.

I’m glad he’s clarifying his policy now. I didn’t listen to that interview live, but wrote about it because several SAB readers emailed me about Burgum’s comments having the same reaction to them I did.

One thing I did mess up on, though, was in attributing to Burgum in my original post the idea that the tax rate reduction was somehow a government giveaway. Those were Miller’s words, and while Burgum didn’t dispute them he also didn’t speak them.

I must have gotten confused when I was listening to the audio and attributed the comments to the wrong person.