Defeat of Proposed Tax Hikes in N.D. Appears Likely
Three tax increases approved during the last session of the North Dakota legislature appear to face strong voter resistance going into a Dec. 5 state referendum, education advocates said last week.
Education officials have warned that defeat of the tax proposals, which are trailing badly in public-opinion polls, could pose severe fiscal consequences for the schools.
The measures would increase the state income tax from 14 percent to 17 percent, the sales tax from 3 cents to 4 cents, and the tax on motor-vehicle fuels from 17 cents to 19 cents a gallon.
Despite intensive efforts by education groups and Gov. George Sin4ner to mobilize support for the tax proposals, statewide polls show some 70 percent of residents opposed to higher taxes, said Carol Siegert, an aide to Mr. Sinner.
Opposition to the increases is being led by the Citizens' Bipartisan Coalition, which argues that the state's fragile economy is unable to bear a third tax increase in as many years.
The five other measures on the ballot next week--including a requirement for a comprehensive health-education curriculum--have greater chances of receiving the voters' approval, observers have suggested.
State Aid Cuts
Rejection of the tax proposals8would lead to drastic financial losses for education, argued Bruce Cooper, executive director of the North Dakota Education Association.
Because they were passed as emergency legislation last spring, the sales and income taxes are already being collected statewide.
As a result, noted Ms. Siegert, a rejection of those two tax referrals would constitute a tax reduction and lead to a loss of $33.7 million for elementary and secondary education.
"If the voters say 'no,"' said Superintendent of Public Instruction Wayne G. Sanstead, "the state will have to cut aid to districts in foundation payments, transportation, and special education."
About a quarter of all districts in the state will be unable to maintain programs to meet state accreditation levels if funds are cut, Mr. Sanstead estimated. In consequence, the districts under state law could lose an additional 40 percent of their foundation payments.
Mr. Sanstead also warned that the loss of state funds would force local districts to increase their reliance on property taxes. "We're going backward while other states are going forward," he lamented.
But the current anti-tax sentiment is not difficult to understand, education officials said, in light of the state's economic problems.
"With this gloom-and-doom outlook," Mr. Sanstead observed, "it's hard to be positive, and it's even harder to convince voters that the money they pay in taxes will go back out to their districts for their children."
Prospects for the controversial health-education curriculum, however, are significantly brighter, according to Mr. Sanstead. Currently, he said, the health curriculum has a 75 percent favorable rating in the polls.
The 25 percent who are against it, Mr. Sanstead hypothesized, are those who are "only focusing on the sex-education portion of the program." But, he pointed out, the curriculum is much broader than that.
The proposed course of study includes information about nutrition, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and safety, as well as about abstinence and aids and other sexually transmitted diseases, he noted.