BISMARCK, N.D. — Gov. Jack Dalrymple issued an executive order Tuesday creating a task force to study property tax reform ideas to bring to the Legislature in 2015.
The action drew criticism from the Republican House majority leader, members of a group pushing to abolish property taxes and others.
The 14-member committee will review all property tax mill levies other than those for school districts. It will look at ways to consolidate taxes, streamline the process for assessing property values and possibly replacing some taxes with other revenue sources, including state funding.
"I'm trying to not come into this with any preconceived agenda … it does strike me that there is plenty of room for improvement," Dalrymple said.
Dalrymple will chair the task force. State and local officials will serve along with representatives of local government organizations.
The group's first meeting is at 10 a.m. Friday in the Roughrider Room inside the state Capitol.
Dalrymple said the focus is on reform, which is what he called a package passed earlier this year by lawmakers to restructure school district funding. The total package amounted to nearly $860 million.
Of that, nearly $660 million in property tax relief was included in the Department of Public Instruction budget through a formula that caps the number of mills used to calculate a school district’s state aid at 60 mills.
Abolition of property taxes isn't something that'll be considered, Dalrymple said.
"I don't see a world in which we have no property taxes," he said.
The governor's plan got a cool response from House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo.
"The governor can set up any task force he wants. I think it's a legislative issue," Carlson said.
The task force shouldn’t impact committee work on bills for the 2015 session, Carlson said. He believes "it gives us more incentive than ever" to continue work on legislation.
Charlene Nelson with Empower the Taxpayer said she expects nothing new to come from the task force. Empower the Taxpayer pushed for the 2012 ballot proposal to abolish property taxes. More than 70 percent of voters rejected the measure.
"Every time what they've done is worse than reform," Nelson said.
She said members of the task force will "maintain the status quo," adding that she believes the task force will do nothing more than prove her group's point and build more support for abolishing property taxes.
"I would've been thrilled to have been included in such a group," Nelson said.
She said no one from Empower the Taxpayer was asked to serve. Even if one person from the group was on the task force, being part of the dialogue would be a positive, she said.
Robert Hale with Empower the Taxpayer called the task force "window dressing" and said the timing was interesting. With people receiving their property tax statements in the coming weeks, he said, it appears to be timed to head off public anger over rising taxes.
Hale questioned why the state is considering options for reform that would increase state control when the campaign against abolishing property taxes was focused on local control. He also questioned the makeup of the task force itself.
"This committee is a hand-picked group of people who've already made up their mind on property taxes," Hale said. "The whole thing is masterful. I have to give them that."
Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said the party is open to new ideas from the majority party but a problem remains with the debate itself.
"We've had a lack of will to consider good ideas," Schneider said. "It's going to take new lawmakers or a new attitude from the current lawmakers."
Schneider said he expects the Democratic-NPL Party to request Democratic participation on the task force.
He pointed to several property tax bills that died during the 2013 session. One bill called for a $75,000 reduction in the true and full valuation of a homeowner's primary residence. Another was for tax credits to those renting residential property.
"It made absolutely no sense," Schneider said.
Schneider said he would like to see a renewed focus on tax credits during the 2015 session. He also hopes the focus is solely on property tax relief and reform, not on corporate or personal income taxes.