Will Governor Doug Burgum Sign a Bill Instituting a $10 Million Tax Hike on Phone Lines?


New North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum speaks with cabinet members on his first day of office Thursday morning at the state Captiol in Bismarck. There are 17 cabinet positions with Burgum replacing a few of the postions with new members or with people filling in for the interim during the transition from former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's administration. 12-15-2016

Not once but twice during his campaign last year Governor Doug Burgum signed pledges to oppose increases in the state’s taxes and fees.

In March Burgum signed a pledge circulated by a group of NDGOP district leaders which stated that he would “oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes or user fees.”

One of Burgum’s fellow Republican candidates at the time, state Rep. Rick Becker, also signed the pledge. The other, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, declined saying he didn’t need to sign a pledge to keep his promise not to raise taxes.

In May Burgum also signed a pledge from Americans for Tax Reform, a group founded by conservative activist Grover Norquist who has made pledges against tax hikes kind of famous.

“It is important that voters know unequivocally that as governor I will never raise taxes. I am proud to be the first candidate in this campaign to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” Burgum said in a press release at the time announcing his signature on the pledge. “We can solve our current budget challenges by reining in our spending and right-sizing state government.”

But a bill which has passed both chambers of the Legislature and is currently sitting on Burgum’s desk is, unequivocally, a tax hike.

HB1178, introduced by Rep. Todd Porter (R-Mandan) would institute a new $0.50 per-connection fee on “assessed communications services.”

From existing law in the North Dakota Century Code, here’s the definition of an “assessed communication service.”

The revenues from this fee would go to new fund for state radio:

The bill also implements a half percent increase in 911 fees:

According to the fiscal note prepared for the legislation by Legislative Council the this new fee and tax hike will cost North Dakotans over $10 million in the coming 2017-2019 biennium.

These revenues may be needed. Back in January Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney told me he was keeping his eye on this legislation, arguing that the state’s radio system which is used by law enforcement and other first responders is in need of upgrades (audio at the link).

Personally, I think it’s prudent legislation, implementing a relatively small fee to fund a real need.

But still, Burgum promised during his campaign last year that he wouldn’t raise taxes or fees, and this is without a doubt a $10 million tax hike.

The bill was sent to Burgum’s desk last week on April 20. Per the Secretary of State’s office, as of the publication of this post he hasn’t yet signed it.