Some state lawmakers question the state taking over full funding of social services

Jan 13, 2016

A task force is proposing the state take over full funding of social service programs – relieving the counties of their responsibility for paying that bill.

But some members of a Legislative interim committee question whether the state can afford to do it – during a time of low oil and crop prices.

Supporters say it would be true property tax relief – and reform. The counties would no longer have the option to fund those programs from property taxes. However, State Rep. Mark Dosch (R-Bismarck) – a member of the Political Subdivision Taxation Committee – says he doesn’t think the state’s current methods of buying down local property tax – which includes a 12 percent buy-down fund and increased funding of K-12 education – can be sustained in the current economic climate.

"Now the state is looking at moving this proposal, which would mean another $150 million of property tax relief dumped on the state," said Dosch. "I don't know where the money's going to come from, quite honestly. I think Christmas is over, and I'm not sure if we realize that."

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has supported the idea.

"These programs have really changed over the years," said Dalrymple. "The populations being served have changed over the years. It's a very valid policy question as to whether a homeowner or a farmer or a commercial building owner should be responsible for these programs."

The counties were given the option of levying up to 20 mills for social services in the late 1990s, at a time when the state was facing a budget squeeze.

North Dakota Association of Counties Assistant Director Terry Traynor says the counties look at the state’s taking over of funding those programs as true property tax relief.

"I think that's a very logical way to approach property tax reform over the long term," said Traynor. "I think  it's sustainable, as well as being true reform."

"Our main concern right now is 'Where's our budget at,'" said Rep. Jason Dockter (R-Bismarck), the committee's chairman "Is it feasible to take over county social service funding? Can we afford to take it over at this time?"

The Committee will make a recommendation to the 2015 Legislative Session. Dockter says some of that could hinge on the updated state revenue forecast, to be presented by the end of the month.

Dalrymple says he’ll have the benefit of not only the winter revenue forecast – he’ll have an updated forecast this summer to work from when he prepares his final executive budget proposal.