A bill that would allow residents to pursue a referral vote on a local government’s annual budget was decried as potentially damaging to the budget process during a Monday hearing.
The House Finance and Taxation Committee spent nearly an hour discussing House Bill 1199. HB1199 would allow voters to pursue a referral on city, county or school district’s mill levy.
“They would have 30 days to refer it, the local political subdivision (and) have 60 days to hold an election,” Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said. Delzer is a sponsor of HB1199.
Initiating a referral would require eligible signatures of at least 10 percent of those who voted in that political subdivision’s most recent election. If a referral were successful the county treasurer would need to send out refunds to taxpayers.
Sandy Clark, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Taxpayers Association, said HB1199 would allow the public to have more input in the budgeting process.
“The local budget process is often completed before the public can appear before the political subdivision,” Clark said.
Bev Nielson of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders opposed the legislation, citing the potential impacts on school districts’ budgeting process. Nielson said school districts’ fiscal year is July 1 through June 30, not Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.
By the time a referral vote would be taken in the fall “you’re halfway through the fiscal year,” Nielson said.
Rep. Craig Headland, R-Montpelier, asked Nielson about the growing costs of education. He also said Measure 2 failed in a vote last June, the fact that it made it to the ballot was a statement by voters to address property taxes. Measure 2 would’ve abolished property taxes.
“We’re up against a situation where the public, if we don’t do something to slow down the growth of some of these budgets I can see this (Measure 2) before the voters again,” Headland said.
Nielson said “the costs don’t go down” when it comes to education. She added that collective bargaining, maintenance costs as well as state and federal mandates contribute greatly to ever-increasing costs.
Shane Goettle, representing the city of Minot, also testified against HB1199. Goettle said HB1199 if implemented “creates an opportunity for budget gridlock.”
Goettle noted that the legislation doesn’t limit the number of times a budget can be referred. He said a percentage of voters could use HB1199 to keep a budget from being passed. Goettle added that HB1199 doesn’t guarantee more public involvement in the budget process.
“On the fact that we’re a nation without a budget, we could become a state, or city or county or school district operating without a budget,” Goettle said.
No action was taken on HB1199 on Monday.
Sponsors of HB1199 along with Delzer are Reps. Larry Bellew, R-Minot, and Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman.