Initiative to eliminate property taxes in North Dakota approved for signature gathering

An initiative to amend the North Dakota Constitution to eliminate property taxes was approved for signature gathering on March 25. The initiative was filed by North Dakota Republican Representative Rick Becker. To qualify for the November ballot, 26,904 valid signatures are due before midnight on July 6, 2020.

Becker, who estimated that North Dakota collects about $950 million a year in property taxes, said property taxes could be eliminated and revenues could be replaced by other tax revenue sources including oil and natural gas tax revenue.

The measure would prohibit property taxes in the state except for those designed to pay for bonded indebtedness incurred before December 2, 2020. The measure would limit the debt of a political subdivision (such as counties, cities, and towns) to 2.5% of the value of real property in the subdivision. Incorporated cities could raise the debt limit to 4% through a two-thirds supermajority vote and school districts could raise the debt limit to 5% through a simple majority vote. Cities could become indebted by an additional 2% for water and sewer projects. A political subdivision could not issue general obligation bonds to be paid back through property taxes after December 2, 2020.

In 2012, North Dakota voters defeated a measure to eliminate property taxes by a vote of 77% against and 23% in favor.

Three other citizen initiatives have been approved for signature gathering in North Dakota. One measure would amend the constitution to prohibit the state legislature from submitting a constitutional amendment to the voters that (1) would alter citizens’ direct democracy (initiative and referendum) powers or (2) is considered a duplicate of a constitutional amendment that was approved by the voters in the last seven years. The other two measures would legalize marijuana; one would do so in the state constitution, and the other would do so in state statute.

To qualify the statutory marijuana measure for the ballot, 13,452 valid signatures are required by July 6. David Owen, chairman of Legalize ND, sponsors of the initiative, said, “Since we are a volunteer (organization), we primarily get our signatures at big events. When there aren’t any major events, you have a large problem. St. Patrick’s Day getting canceled, that probably cost us between 1,000 and 1,500 signatures. If we stay shut down [due to Coronavirus] until July, no, we’re not going to make it. If we get going again after Easter, maybe.”

While candidates for state office may send copies of their nominating petitions through fax and email for supporters to sign, ballot measure petition circulators in North Dakota must sign statements affirming that they personally witnessed each petition signing.

Two constitutional amendments are set to appear on the November ballot in North Dakota, both of which were referred to the ballot by the state legislature during the 2019 session. One of the measures would require citizen-initiated constitutional amendments to be either passed by the legislature or passed twice by voters. The other measure makes changes to the membership and terms of the state’s Board of Higher Education.

Between 1996 and 2018, an average of six measures appeared on the ballot in North Dakota during even-numbered election years, 56% of which were approved.

Additional reading:
North Dakota 2020 ballot measures
Changes to ballot measure campaigns, procedures, and policies in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, 2020