Rep. Ben Hanson, a Democrat from Fargo, introduced HB1069 which would have required that North Dakota counties maintain an online database of property tax information. Not surprisingly local government lobbyists – perhaps the most effective opponents of government transparency in North Dakota – rushed to oppose the measure.
“It’s just another state requirement that counties would have to fund using local taxpayer dollars, especially when there’s such a focus on holding the line on our local property taxes,” a representative of the North Dakota Association of Counties told the House Finance and Taxation Committee which kicked out an 11-3 “do not pass” recommendation on the bill.
The words of the Association of Counties were echoed on the floor of the House when the bill came up for a vote by bill carrier Rep. Glen Froseth (R-Kenmare). “While there may be merit to this information for real estate transaction and transparency of information available to taxpayers and citizens it clearly is a mandate on counties and will impact property taxes as well,” he said.
Froseth went on to reference the fact that while there are almost two dozen counties in the state which do put property tax information online, seven counties currently do not even have a website. Something which elicited response from Rep. Tom Beadle (one of the bill’s sponsors) who, while acknowledging that the bill wasn’t going anywhere, got in a jab at the counties for failing to have websites in 2015.
“We know this bill is going to go down, but I just wanted to rise and make the point that the fact that we have seven counties that still don’t have websites and it’s 2015 and you can make them for free online is to me a little discouraging and disheartening,” Beadle, a Fargo Republican, said.. “Especially when they deal with a lot of public information that is important to taxpayers in the area.”
“It would be wonderful if we could get some of these counties to start cooperating,” he added. “I’d like to verbally encourage counties to step up their game and start getting some of this information out there.”
I’ve written before about what an obstacle local government advocacy groups are to government transparency. Consistently, in one legislative session after another, they fight off bills aimed at making taxes, spending, and policy at the local level easier to access by taxpayers.
Maybe it’s time lawmakers stopped listening to these people. Because whose interests is truly being served by killing these bills? The taxpayers? Or local leaders who want to keep local business opaque to taxpayers?
What’s really galling is that the membership dues for groups like the North Dakota Association of Counties comes from our tax dollars. Meaning that the NDAC gets money from taxpayers to fight laws which help taxpayers access more information.