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North Dakota Property Tax Will Not Die

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By Deanne Katz, Esq. on June 13, 2012 2:18 PM

North Dakota voters opted to keep the state's property tax system intact this election in spite of the outspoken support in favor of abolishing it.

Local and national news sources brought attention to the measure which early polls indicated was a long shot to pass. While most North Dakotans opposed abandoning property taxes, a vocal minority kept the measure in the public eye right up to the vote on Tuesday.

Being the first state to ditch property taxes would make a great headline, but the legal implications for North Dakota might have made them wish for a do-over.

Property taxes in North Dakota bring in an estimated $812 million in revenue every year, reports The New York Times. That income is traditionally used to fund local services including schools, police and fire stations, and city parks.

Supporters of getting rid of the property tax system argued that the state's oil surplus funds should be directed to local costs in lieu of property taxes. The problem is that North Dakota's oil income is already promised to fund other budget items in the state.

It's not just a matter of breaking a promise; North Dakota is legally obligated to use the funds as directed. Even if it weren't tied up, income from oil can fluctuate wildly in any given year.

Funding public services with oil money could result in years when the state can't afford to run its public schools or provide emergency services. That in turn could lead to even more legal battles, not to mention voter discontent.

The defeat of the measure doesn't mean that property taxes in the state of North Dakota will remain untouched. A complete abolishment is off the table but property tax reform is likely according to The Bismarck Tribune. In the long run, property tax opponents may win the war despite losing this battle.

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