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You Paid For It: What ND Lawmakers Did With Your Tax Dollars - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

You Paid For It: What ND Lawmakers Did With Your Tax Dollars

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North Dakota's bank accounts are booming thanks to big oil. With the help of oil country, the state's legacy fund, has more than a billion dollars, and several "rainy day" and heritage funds are also full. The state's budget is expected to continue growing by more than 30 percent.

With Tuesday's announcement from the United State Geological Survey that the Bakken Formation can now produce at least seven billion barrels of oil, the money will continue to come.

With all that, you may be wondering how lawmakers in this legislative session have spent your tax dollars and if they have helped you at all. We did some digging and sat down with the lawmakers directly to find out.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, began our interview by saying, "First thing we said we were going to fund our priorities. We've done a pretty darn good job of that."

But have lawmakers done a good job of funding your priorities?

Here are some of the things you will be paying for:

  1. Increased wages to the governor, the state's judges, and the legislature
  2. A couple billion dollars is heading to oil country to fix roads and infrastructure
  3. $100 million dollars starting in July up to $450 million total will go towards the Fargo-Moorhead diversion project

The list goes on and on, but do you notice a few things missing?

We took a poll on Facebook to find out what you thought the money should be spent on, and besides higher education, the overwhelming majority of you said tax relief.

Bryan even goes so far to say, "We wanted one thing out of this legislative season. Tax relief."

Throughout the 63rd Legislative Assembly, we have seen a tale of two chambers. The House and Senate have battled over what needs to be done in the way of tax relief. Neither side is yet to agree.

Lawmakers want to hang their hats on a billion dollars in relief, but we sat down with them to find out if you will actually see that money in your wallet.

As expected, it was two different answers from two sides.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, says "I feel like there as been an unfortunate lack of focus on providing property tax relief. That is the tax people are concerned about."

On the other hand, Carlson says, "We have proven to them over and over again that when you reduce those taxes, the revenue increases. People spend the money. They hire more people. They grow their businesses."

Carlson is referring to personal and corporate income tax cuts. The House's tax relief package calls for more than $350 million in income tax cuts if possible. But the Senate does not see it that way.

"What I don't think we'll have funds to do is stand by Western North Dakota to address oil impact, meaningfully cut property taxes and cut the corporate and personal income tax," says Schneider.

A couple days ago the Senate killed HB 1250, a $352 million package of personal and corporate income tax cuts, after it passed the house with a bi-partisan 76-vote majority. Finance and Tax Chairman Dwight Cook said that was too much in tax relief.

Carlson says, "There's a neighbor to the south that has no income tax. So we also need to be competitive."

Setting income taxes aside, and we can focus on property taxes. There looks to be about $715 million in property tax relief when lawmakers head home. That sounds good, right?

Senator Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, says the people will see that money. If they did not, they would be writing a higher check.

"At the end of the day, you'll see significant dollar reduction on the K-12 side in your next property tax statement," he says.

That may be true, but it seems as if Carlson is on the right track with this as he says, "The number's acceptable to both sides, but what we're discussing that's really a point of contention is the safeguards we need to build in to make sure that doesn't get eaten away by increased assessments and inflation."

If the legislature continues to buy down the mill levies to keep property taxes lower, that works to a point. What many lawmakers do not seem to understand is that even as they are doing that, if property values rise, usually so do assessments. That means property taxes really are not dropping.

Carlson says, "We're sending back more money than we've ever sent to political subdivisions and taxes are still going up. If they don't think the people aren't gonna figure this out, they're kidding themselves."

At the end of the day, a billion dollars in tax cuts may not amount to much savings for you. So then the question to lawmakers is: When do you set politics aside and start doing something for the people of North Dakota?

Grindberg argues, "Politics is in everything we do in our lives, and politics is certainly what makes the legislative process work."

To people like Betsie, the partisan politics process is not working for the people. She says, "What have you done as a legislative body that causes us to be proud of you? I will answer it for you. Nothing. Shame on the 63rd Legislative Session in North Dakota."

With time running out as the 80 day deadline approaches, lawmakers are not even receiving a "C" in the grade book from the people.

As for higher education funding, the bill came out of conference committee today with $160 million approved for capital projects including $62 million for a new medical school at UND

That bill also included just under $900 million for general operating expenses for the colleges and universities.

The Senate and House still have to pass it to get it to the Governor's desk.

Lawmakers are still in session, so check back to this story for changes and updates as more bills are passed or voted down.

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