Newspaper article

North Dakotans Wage Savvy Campaign to Preserve Property Taxes

Newspaper article

North Dakotans Wage Savvy Campaign to Preserve Property Taxes

Article excerpt

In an era when taxes and government are considered dirty words by many Americans, it's quite remarkable that North Dakota voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a ballot measure to eliminate property taxes.

A group called Empower the Taxpayer wanted to amend North Dakota's constitution to abolish property taxes, but 77 percent of voters rejected that effort.

North Dakota Republicans control the governor's office, both houses of the Legislature and two of the three congressional seats in Washington. The people who've elected conservatives to represent them in Bismarck and Washington, D.C., didn't want to gamble to see what would happen with a property-tax abolition.

If the measure had been adopted, the North Dakota Legislature's authority would have increased and it would have been responsible for funding schools and local units of government with state income, sales and oil tax revenues.

Many people who have difficulty paying rising property taxes on their homes and businesses could have viewed a constitutional amendment as a just reform.

But the opponents of the measure crafted a political strategy that created a huge majority that was motivated to defeat the measure.

North Dakotans chose to preserve the property tax as an essential and stable revenue source for funding the local services they use on a daily basis, namely schools, roads and law enforcement.

It's challenging to communicate with the public on ballot measures because it's critical to develop succinct and clear messages. In Minnesota, that communication hurdle is now evident as leaders of the pro- and anti-marriage amendment camps are rolling out their campaigns to woo November voters.

Strategic decisions

In North Dakota, several strategic decisions were made to give the property-tax measure opponents the edge with voters.

1. They created a coalition name, Keep It Local North Dakota, that resonated with voters. In small towns and regional centers across North Dakota, people wanted local control to decide how much money is spent on their schools and city and county government. People also wanted to have ready access to attend school board and local government meetings to express their views on what programs should get priority funding. Voters wanted to share their opinions with school board and city council members when they see them in a grocery store or at a school athletic event. Moving these financial decisions to Bismarck would mean that government decision-makers would be less accessible on a regular basis.

2. Opponents successfully framed the issue. They defined the impact of Measure 2, the ballot measure to get rid of property taxes, as one that would produce "uncertainty" in North Dakota. This was a winning argument because people care deeply about their schools and they want their cities and counties to reliably and efficiently provide police, fire and snow removal services. …

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