Burgum petition calling for support of tax relief plan

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is asking supporters to sign a petition endorsing his plan to use some of the state treasury’s bulging surpluses to offset income taxes, an unorthodox move that is perceived as an end-run on a Legislature that has signaled no appetite for the idea.

The second-term Republican governor, in an address at the state Capitol last month, recommended using a portion of the state’s hefty and better-than-forecast ending fund balance of $1.1 billion in the last two-year budget cycle to provide $207 million in income tax relief to residents. Burgum’s plan would provide a $500 income tax credit on returns for 2021 and 2022.

The plan was part of Burgum’s recommendations to legislators on how to spend some $1 billion in federal aid North Dakota received this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tax relief idea — and the push to promote it through a petition — has drawn a skeptical response in the GOP-led Legislature, which controls state government spending.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner said Wednesday that he hasn’t heard of a single lawmaker who supports the governor’s idea for tax relief.

“There is no support to do that in the Legislature,” Wardner said.

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said the governor’s plan probably doesn’t go far enough.

“If we do pass income tax relief, it should be permanent and not temporary,” he said.

The petition “urging the Legislature to give working North Dakotans a tax break” was emailed by Burgum’s campaign this week and signed by him. Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki referred questions to the campaign, which issued a statement saying the “petition is a simple way for North Dakotans to show support for the governor’s proposal.”

Several longtime lawmakers and other state officials said Wednesday that they could not recall a governor using such a tactic to garner support for an initiative.

While Burgum touts a good relationship with the Legislature and bristles when asked about it, many at the state Capitol would call the association rocky at best, with major disagreements during his tenure over policy and spending decisions, even within his own party. Several lawmakers said they believed Burgum’s petition maneuver widens the divide.

North Dakota’s Legislature has clobbered several attempts over the years to eliminate state income tax. The Legislature has raised income taxes in lean times, including during the 1980s when oil and crop prices nose-dived and left lawmakers scrambling for revenue.

North Dakota voters themselves have shown little will for cutting income taxes. They defeated a ballot measure in 2008 to slash individual income tax rates by 50%.

State tax commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger said the Legislature has cut income tax rates a combined 50% since then.

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