I’ve been critical of western North Dakota leaders for what I see as wanting their cake and eating it too. It seems western leaders want to use the “oil impacts” trump card to leverage lots of money out of the state while they keep local taxes low and/or spend local revenues on frivolities like lavish water parks.
Keep in mind that oil patch counties levy an average property tax mill rate that is about 30 percent lower than oil patch counties. According to Republican state Senate candidate Brade Bekkedahl (who is currently running unopposed after his Democrat opponent withdrew) thinks that sort of thing is just wonderful:
“We’ve kept our property tax levies to lower amounts of increase each year and we have the lowest property tax levied amongst the major cities in the state,” Bekkedahl said Friday. “While some criticize us at the state level, we think that’s the responsible way to levy taxes for the services required by citizens. The downside is it hasn’t afforded us to provide additional amenities and hasn’t allowed us to set aside substantial funds with excessive revenue.”
Keeping local taxes low while passing the buck for local spending needs to the state may sound like a good deal if you live in an oil patch county. For the rest of the state, asked to pick up the tab for western needs and pay significantly higher property tax rates, it’s not so great.
Later today legislators are going to announce a proposed change to the sharing formula for oil tax revenues. That change will likely be toward leaving 60 percent of revenues with local counties, and 40 percent to the state (currently it is a 75/25 split the opposite direction). That’s a good move, though I’d like to see it made temporary instead of permanent as there is no need for western counties to get that firehouse of revenues forever.
The west absolutely needs more resources. But state tax payers also need to be protected from western opportunists who want to pass the buck for local spending on to the state budget.