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Republican Ryan Rauschenberger and Democrat Jason Astrup officially launched their campaigns for state tax commissioner hours apart Wednesday at their state party headquarters in Bismarck.

Rauschenberger was appointed to the tax commissioner position after Cory Fong announced his resignation to pursue a job in the private sector. Rauschenberger had served as deputy tax commissioner since July 2009 and took over the commissioner’s job Jan. 1.

“I am seeking election to this position so I can continue to build upon the work we have already begun,” Rauschenberger said.

As an example, he said, approximately $857 million in tax cuts are to be enacted during the 2013-15 biennium as an example. Rauschenberger said while working under Fong, the state passed approximately $2.4 billion in income and property tax cuts overall.

Astrup, making his first run for political office, owns Astrup Law Office in Fargo and lives in West Fargo. He specializes in business and tax law as well as estate planning. He attended the University of North Dakota School of Law.

Astrup said his legal background gives him a strong knowledge of tax issues, which would serve him well in the office. He also described himself as a fiscal conservative with real-world experience working with small businesses through his law practice.

Before joining the Tax Department, Rauschenberger worked for the North Department of Commerce. Earlier, he worked at a Minneapolis accounting firm.

Rauschenberger said his track record made him the ideal candidate for the office.

“I think the Republicans have been doing really well,” he said. “Why would you want to change policies at this point in time?”

A continued focus is needed on property taxes, which have been a source of much public anger in recent years, Rauschenberger said.

A property tax task force looking at ways to consolidate and potentially eliminate some property tax mill levies should be done with its work by the end of the year. Rauschenberger defended its work, saying it takes time to review the nearly 190 mill levies available to political subdivisions across the state.

“There was tax reform in the area of school funding (last session). This is the next step,” he said.

Astrup said the operations of the tax office need to change.

“The tax commissioner’s office is more than just a collection and reporting agency,” he said.

During the era in which Democrats Byron Dorgan, Kent Conrad and Heidi Heitkamp ran the office, it “used to be a powerful force” in state government in helping develop state tax policy, Astrup said.

“We need a tax commissioner who’s a watchdog,” he said.

Astrup also took aim at the property tax task force, saying the tax commissioner’s office should be leading in developing property tax policy.

“Another task force will not solve that problem,” Astrup said.

Astrup declined to get into specifics on policy proposals, saying he will be unveiling more of his platform in the near future. He did say that he’s adamantly opposed to any cuts to the state’s 6.5 percent oil extraction tax.

The North Dakota Libertarian Party announced Wednesday it has an endorsed a candidate for the tax commissioner race: Fargo resident Anthony Mangnall. He’s a producer for Rush Street Productions in Fargo.

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Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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